UN Sees No Change in US-Iraq PolicyBy Nicole Winfield, Associated Press Writer, FEBRUARY 26, 2000, 14:05 EST
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Despite the Clinton administration's pledge to start easing restrictions on sending some industrial equipment to Iraq, diplomats doubt the goods Iraq most desperately needs will get there.
U.N. officials, analysts and western diplomats say they have seen no indication that Washington has changed its hard-line position in the U.N. committee that reviews contracts for humanitarian supplies to Iraq.
At the last committee meeting, in fact, the United States blocked 20 to 30 items, including fork lifts and car batteries, from being included on a list of humanitarian goods that could automatically be sent to Iraq through the U.N. humanitarian program.
A State Department official said U.S. concerns that such items could be used for military purposes hadn't changed.
``The dual-use standard is what it is,'' the official said Friday on condition of anonymity.
The United States, however, is reviewing its way of doing business in the U.N. sanctions committee in light of a December resolution that called for faster delivery of aid to Iraq, the official said.
Iraq has been barred from selling its oil on the open market since a sweeping U.N. trade embargo was imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The U.N. humanitarian program, created in 1996 to get food and medicine to needy Iraqis, allows Iraq to export oil through U.N.-controlled sales provided the proceeds be used for humanitarian supplies.
The U.N. sanctions committee for Iraq, composed of the 15 members of the Security Council, reviews contracts for the supplies, but any member can place a contract on ``hold'' at any time for any reason.
Of the $1.78 billion worth of contracts in limbo, the United States is responsible for more than 75 percent, with Britain making up the rest, a U.N. official said.
Most of the disputed contracts are for equipment to improve Iraq's dilapidated oil industry, power grid and water sanitation infrastructure.
President Clinton said Friday that the United States was reviewing ways to get more goods to Iraqis, provided they don't help Saddam Hussein rearm. A U.S. official in Washington said that included ``gray area'' exports such as chlorine.
The Washington Post, reporting the U.S. position in a story Friday, cited an $80 million electricity contract that Washington recently allowed to go through as evidence of its softening position.
But with hundreds of millions of dollars still held up, U.N. officials and western diplomats cautioned that such token measures would do little to have any real impact on the lives of Iraqis.
``If they have lifted some electricity contracts, the backlog is so huge that to have an effect on the humanitarian situation on the ground, there has to be much more,'' a sanctions committee member said on condition of anonymity.
A U.N. official said she had no information that the United States had released any other major holds recently.
Raad Alkadiri, an analyst with the Washington-based Petroleum Finance Group, said it appeared the administration was merely trying to deflect some of the criticism of its hard line without making any significant changes in its policy.
``The U.S. has decided to back down on an issue it probably was going to come out looking the worst on,'' he said.
Diplomats noted the leaked story to the Post came on the heels of demands by 70 U.S. congressmen earlier this month to lift sanctions. In addition, the United States is gearing up for criticism of its policies with the arrival in New York of the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck.
Von Sponeck resigned earlier this month to protest the sanctions and the politics that had prevented the oil-for-food program from working. The German diplomat arrives at U.N. headquarters Monday and plans to meet with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
For his part, Annan, who has been outspoken about the need for the number of ``holds'' to be released, ``of course would be pleased to see some of the backlog of these contracts on hold thinned out,'' spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
FEBRUARY 25, 2000, 17:35 EST
Clinton: U.S. To Explore Iraq Aid
By TERENCE HUNT,
AP White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) - Under pressure to lift sanctions, President Clinton said Friday the United States will explore ways to relieve the suffering in Iraq if it can be done without helping Saddam Hussein rebuild his weapons arsenal.
Clinton said that shortages of food and medicine were the result of the Iraqi president's policies, not the United Nations' embargo imposed after the Gulf War. ``It's clear to everybody who has looked at the facts ... that they're exporting about as much oil now as they were before the embargo was imposed.''
The president spoke with reporters outside the White House as he left for a speech at a nearby hotel. He cut short his address after a hotel fire alarm was triggered by a small blaze in the laundry room.
Clinton, in his remarks with reporters, also said:
- International humanitarian agencies should be granted unfettered access to Chechnya to investigate reports of atrocities by Russian troops. Clinton said the reports were ``very troubling'' but added, ``In any conflict of any duration there are always excesses. I'm not excusing anything.''
- China's threats against Taiwan should not prompt members of Congress to vote against permanent trade benefits for Beijing. ``In the absence of some destructive action,'' Clinton said, ``it would be a terrible mistake ... to use this as an excuse to isolate China and almost guarantee the very things they say they're worried about.''
- Persian Gulf oil ministers have agreed to increase production ``because they believe it's in their long-term best interest ... to try to stabilize prices at a lower rate.''
- It is impossible to judge whether Sen. John McCain or Texas Gov. George W. Bush would be the strongest Republican candidate for the presidential race. ``Look how different today's facts are than the facts six months ago,'' Clinton said. ``And six months from now, they might be different again.''
Although Clinton said he would explore ways to relieve suffering in Iraq, the administration emphasized that it does not support easing the sanctions. ``What we are reviewing is whether there is some way to continue our policy of meeting human needs without allowing Saddam Hussein to rearm,'' the president said.
Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart said, ``We believe that Saddam Hussein knows what he needs to do to get out from under U.N. sanctions against his country. And there will be no shift until he understands that and acts on it.''
An administration official said the U.S. goal is to deny Saddam items that would assist him in a weapons program without stopping exports that might help extract oil that Iraq is permitted to sell for humanitarian purposes. Proceeds must be used for food and medicine.
For example, the official said, chlorine, which could be used in water purification, would now be cleared for export to Iraq.
The sanctions, imposed in 1990, were subsequently eased to permit Iraq to sell $5.2 billion worth of oil every six months provided the revenue is used to assist the Iraqi people. But even with oil prices soaring, Saddam deliberately and cynically does not take advantage of the quota, the administration said.
Western diplomats on the U.N. sanctions committee said they had seen no easing of the hard-line U.S. position. The diplomats noted that recently as last Friday, the United States canceled between 20 and 30 items, such as fork lifts and car batteries, from a list of goods that could be approved automatically in the sanctions committee.
U.N. figures show that $1.77 billion worth of goods were frozen as of Feb. 21, nearly all of them frozen by put on
hold by the United States.