UN Council at Loggerheads over Iraq's Sanctions Lifting

US President George W. Bush urged the United Nations last week to lift its sweeping sanctions on Iraq on the grounds that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was already gone.

But the appeal met a cool response from some major capitals. Both Russia and France expressed their opposition to "automatically" lifting sanctions on Iraq just because of the regime change in Iraq as suggested by Bush. Moscow and Paris maintained that it is up to the UN Security Council to decide on whether and how to remove the sanctions.

Rejecting Bush's call for a quick end to the sanctions, France and Russia, two staunch opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq, again put themselves on a collision course with the United States.

The two have already got support from Iraq's neighbors. Iraq's six neighbors, including UN Security Council member Syria, declared Saturday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh that they oppose the lifting of sanctions on Iraq until a legitimate Iraqi government is sworn in.

All these developments indicated that a row over how to end the sanctions was brewing among the UN Security Council members, which have already been deadlocked over what role the United Nations should play in post-war Iraq.

Before the outbreak of the Iraqi war, the international community, including Russia and France, had repeatedly called for the removal of the devastating sanctions, which was imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The calls, however, had always fallen on deaf ears of the United States and Britain. The two vowed to keep the sanctions in place till the removal of all Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Analysts here believe the suffering of Iraqis from the 13-year-old UN sanctions is apparently not the main motivation of Washington to call for an immediate end to the harsh penalties.

The real intention of the US administration is to win legitimacy for its war on Iraq and the post-war political arrangements mapped by the Americans and to gain international recognition of its control of post-war Iraq, they say.

Besides, using Iraq's oil revenues to finance the US-led reconstruction and enabling US businessmen to legally participate in the rebuilding process are also the motivations driving the United States to make such an appeal.

These undeclared objectives of Washington prompted the opposition from France, Russia and other countries to an automatic lifting of the sanctions on Iraq, analysts say.

If the United States raised the issue with the Security Council, it could undoubtedly face pressure from France and Russia, two permanent Security Council members with veto power, and make compromise on a leading UN role in post-war Iraq and the return of UN weapons inspectors to the nation, they say.

Only when the world body leads the reconstruction of post-war Iraq could France and Russia retain its interests gained prior to the war and get a piece of the reconstruction "cake," the analysts say.

France, Russia and many other Security Council members have stressed that the sanctions on Iraq should be removed only after the issue of Iraq's WMD are clarified.

Under relevant UN resolutions, UN weapons inspectors should verify the removal of all Iraq's WMD before the Security Council adopts a resolution to lift the sanctions. Eliminating Iraq's WMD is the excuse for the United States and Britain to wage the war on Iraq last month without the authorization of the Security Council.

But neither UN inspectors nor the US-British forces have so far found any WMD inside Iraq. On the eve of the US-led invasion, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered pullout of inspectors from Iraq and their return is currently blocked by Washington.

To win support from other Security Council members, the United States has reportedly prepared to propose phasing out the sanctions. The step-by-step approach would retain UN supervision of Iraq's oil sales while starting the transfer of other parts of the economy to a new Iraqi authority.

Media reports quoted US officials as saying that rather than risk a confrontation at the United Nations over a single resolution, the United States would seek three or four resolutions over the coming months to lift the sanctions in phases.

It is not clear, however, whether such an approach will work in the Security Council, where a majority favor a vital UN role than the one envisioned by the United States.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to hear a briefing by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix on his ideas about future weapons inspection in Iraq. The closed-door consultations could also take up the issue of lifting the sanctions on the country.



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