Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, November 26, 2001

News Analysis: "Smart Sanctions" Issue Hangs in Balance

The "smart sanctions" draft, put forward by the United States and Britain to stem international criticism of the sweeping sanctions on Iraq and sharpen the edge ofthe sanctions regime, is expected to grip the world's attention once again when the current phase of the U.N. oil-for-food program expires at the end of this month.


The "smart sanctions" draft, put forward by the United States and Britain to stem international criticism of the sweeping sanctions on Iraq and sharpen the edge ofthe sanctions regime, is expected to grip the world's attention once again when the current phase of the U.N. oil-for-food program expires at the end of this month.

Before November 30, the U.N. Security Council must adopt a resolution either to extend the oil-for-food program or overhaul it.

While the U.S. and Britain are seen set to revamp the 11-year-old sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, their "smart sanctions" proposal still faces an uncertain future ifthe two Western allies raise the issue this week at the U.N. Security Council again, analysts say.

The "smart sanctions" initiative aimed at lifting restraints on Iraq's imports of civilian goods but tightening the inflow of materials that may be used for military purposes. Meanwhile, it kept the lid on Iraq's oil revenues and sought to choke off the smuggling of oil and other goods.

The U.S.-British proposal was shelved by the U.N. Security Council in July because of opposition from Russia and Iraq's neighbors.

Russia Unlikely to Switch Stand
Russia, a staunch ally of Iraq and one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, is not expected to change itsstance on the "smart sanctions" because of its huge economic interests in the oil-rich country, said an Iraqi analyst who asked not to be identified.

The analyst pointed out that in a gesture of gratitude for Russia's support, the Iraqi government had since rewarded Russia with more than 10 billion U.S. dollars worth of humanitarian contracts within the oil-for-food deal.

The humanitarian accord, launched since 1996, allows Iraq to sell oil and use part of the revenues to import U.N.-monitored food, medicine and other essentials to offset the impact of the sanctions.

Moreover, Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammad Mehdi Salah announced inSeptember a long-term bilateral cooperation program, in which Russian companies would be able to carry out Iraqi projects valued at some 40 billion dollars.

Russia has topped a list of 75 countries which have trade dealings with Iraq, with bilateral trade exchange amounting to 4.204 billion dollars under the five-year-long U.N. oil-for-food deal, Salah added.

"Russia can not afford to forsake Iraq because this will cost itdear," the Iraqi analyst said.

Neither will Iraq's neighbors, such as Turkey, Jordan and Syria switch sides, the analyst asserted, noting that these resources-deficient countries are set to lose billions of dollars in their trade dealings with Iraq if they throw weight behind the "smart sanctions."

U.S., Britain Fail to Convince Russia
In a report published on November 15, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that Washington and London were consulting Russia and other nations a revised plan of the "smart sanctions," and he expressed confidence that the revised plan would satisfy the interests of all, including Russia.

The revised "smart sanctions," according to the British foreign minister, would permit Iraq to import all products irrelevant to defense and prevent it from acquiring products used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

However, as the end of the present phase of the oil-for-food deal looms, Britain has apparently been unable to persuade Russia to change its mind, nor have the talks between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yieldedany results.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said early this month that controversy over the "smart sanctions" had aroused in Powell's talks with the Russian foreign minister, whose country hadproposed to suspend or even lift the sanctions on Iraq once arms inspectors are allowed back into the sanctions-hit country.

Iraq has barred U.N. arms inspectors from returning after the U.S. and Britain unleashed a four-day air war against Baghdad in December 1998.

Powell, who vowed to reenergize the unpopular sanctions on Iraq when he took office in January, has reportedly cast doubt on whether an agreement could be reached with Moscow over modifying the sanctions.

Iraq Rejects "Smart Sanctions"
Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammad Mehdi Salah told Xinhua on November 14 that Iraq rejects the "smart sanctions" and will not accept any proposal without completely lifting the sanctions.

"The smart sanctions have been rejected by Iraq and Iraq will reject any proposal which prolongs the sanctions on Iraq," Salah said.

Iraq has threatened to sever trade ties with any country backingthe "smart sanctions" and demanded a total lifting of the sanctionsbefore considering the possibility of resuming cooperation with theUnited Nations on arms inspections after an absence of three years.

Senior Iraqi officials have time and again blasted the "smart sanctions" plan and demanded a comprehensive and immediate lifting of the sanctions.

Moreover, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan on November 1called on Russia and neighboring countries to take a stand against the "smart sanctions."

"We are confident that these countries will take the same position if the U.S. and Britain try again to pass this resolution in any form," Ramadan said.

Iraq has expressed the belief that Russia and neighboring countries, who "have stood well and strong" in opposing the "smart sanctions," would keep their stand again if the "smart sanctions" proposal resurfaces.

However, a European diplomat in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity that Iraq is deeply worried about the "smart sanctions" plan because the new U.S.-British gambit is targeting the Iraqi regime rather than the Iraqi people.

Iraq Expects Rollover of Oil-for-Food Deal
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Ahmed was quoted by official Iraqi media as saying on Friday that when the current 10th phase ofthe oil-for-food program comes to a conclusion on November 30, the humanitarian accord is expected to be renewed for another six months.

That is Iraq's "wishful thinking," the European diplomat said, adding that the oil-for-food deal might not be necessarily extendedfor half a year, but just one to three months.

If the oil-for-food accord is extended, that means the negotiations between the U.S. and Russia are not mature enough and Russia's interests in the region have not been satisfied yet, the diplomat said, terming Russia's stance on the issue as "decisive."

However, the U.S. will continue to negotiate with Russia by showing more flexibility and making the plan more acceptable, with Britain playing the role of a mediator between the two powers, to push for the passage of the revised plan of "smart sanctions," he said.

"It remains to be seen Russia's position on the 'smart sanctions' is whether strategic or merely defending its interests, but I think Russia will eventually cooperate (with the U.S. and Britain)," he said.

Consequently, "we are going to witness a difficult period of time in the coming weeks," because Iraq has shown its vehement opposition and intransigence toward the "smart sanctions," while the U.S. "will not allow Iraq to live a single day without sanctions," the European diplomat said.


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Iraqi Oil Minister Condemns "Smart Sanctions"

Iraq Hails Russia's Stance on US-British "Smart Sanctions"