- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

NEW YORK U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday accepted the resignation of Hans von Sponeck, the second humanitarian coordinator for Iraq to quit after criticizing U.S.-backed sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime.
While Mr. Annan expressed disappointment about the weekend resignation, there was no such sorrow at the State Department, where spokesman James P. Rubin said officials were "very pleased" to see Mr. von Sponeck step down.
"It's long been our view that Mr. von Sponeck has exceeded his mandate in purporting to comment on areas that are beyond the range of his competence or his authority with respect to the wisdom of sanctions," Mr. Rubin said.
Mr. von Sponeck's predecessor, Denis Halliday of Ireland, had resigned in an eerily similar scenario two years ago. He, too, became a passionate foe of sanctions and was discounted by the State Department as too soft on Saddam Hussein.
Mr. von Sponeck, a German who has been with the United Nations for more than 30 years, told CNN yesterday he had resigned "simply because I feel someone has to come here with more optimism than I have in thinking that the period ahead will bring relief for the humanitarian situation in this country."
He had been increasingly outspoken about the impact of the embargo on ordinary Iraqis and his own program's inability to meet their basic needs.
"As a U.N. official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended," Mr. von Sponeck told CNN on Feb. 8.
In New York yesterday, police arrested dozens of protesters in front of the U.S. Mission during an unauthorized demonstration against U.N. sanctions on Iraq.
Mr. von Sponeck had urged the U.N. Security Council which imposed the sanctions in 1990 after Baghdad's invasion of Kuwait to separate the embargo from continuing efforts to find and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Annan said yesterday he would accept the resignation "with regret."
But the United States and Britain long have objected to Mr. von Sponeck, 61, saying he had overstepped his authority and was too sympathetic to Baghdad.
Washington had demanded that Mr. Annan replace Mr. von Sponeck when his one-year term expired in October. Mr. Annan reappointed him anyway, but his offer later announced the term would end early on April 31.
In his resignation announcement in Baghdad, Mr. von Sponeck said he would leave a month early, on March 31.
U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said yesterday that no replacement had been named, noting that the organization had until the end of March to choose a successor.
Meanwhile, Baghdad threatened to cut back exports through the oil-for-food program unless it is permitted to buy more spare parts to rehabilitate its aging oil infrastructure.
Such a move could drive up already high gasoline prices in the United States and Europe.
"If they don't approve the contracts, then there will be really a reduction," said Iraq's trade minister, Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, who was attending a U.N. trade conference in Bangkok.
"We told Mr. Annan that the program of oil for food has become a program for covering the expenses of the United Nations and for compensation, and it is not in the interests of Iraq. So what is the reason for exporting more?"
Baghdad in the past slowed down or even halted oil production when dissatisfied with Security Council resolutions.
Iraq's leaders have said they will not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. However, the council has said the oil embargo will remain in force until Iraq can no longer make or use its suspected weapons of mass destruction.
In response to the humanitarian outcry 86 persons were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct yesterday outside the U.S. Mission the council has allowed Iraq to sell up to $5 billion worth of oil every six months, a ceiling that has now been erased.
The council's Sanctions Committee insists on approving all Iraqi purchases to make sure none of the money is used to rebuild its weapons program.

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