- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

DAMASCUS, Syria Secretary of State Colin Powell will recommend that sanctions on Iraq be eased on a wide range of civilian goods and focused more closely on military equipment and said yesterday he had found "pretty solid support" from regional leaders for the ideas.
The changes are intended to address opposition from Arab allies who complain the sanctions are hurting only Iraqi civilians. But any chance they would pave the way for a return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Baghdad appeared slim after an Iraqi delegation at the United Nations insisted they would not be allowed back under any conditions.
A senior administration official said U.S. objections could be lifted on as many as 1,600 contracts for the sale of consumer and civilian goods to Iraq. The easing could even extend to some "dual-use" items such as refrigerated trucks and water pumps, which are considered to have possible military applications..
Mr. Powell will present his recommendations to President Bush following his return to Washington tomorrow, said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
Asked later how Arab leaders had responded to the proposals during talks in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria, Mr. Powell told reporters on board his plane he had "found pretty solid support" for the idea. "Nobody threw me out," he said.
Mr. Powell said the biggest problem would be to tighten sanctions on the small amounts of materials such as fissile material needed to produce weapons of mass destruction. He proposed putting the onus on "getting nations with fissile materials to control it."
"We have to keep the box as strongly closed as it has been without having on our shoulders" the suffering of the Iraqi people, he said.
Asked about the easing of restrictions on dual-use materials, he said the United States "has been very, very strict on dual use," adding that U.S. standards are five to 10 times higher than those of other countries.
Even eggs could be considered a dual-use product because they could be used to manufacture biotoxins and vaccines, Mr. Powell said.
Officials provided details of the plan as Mr. Powell completed a three-day swing through the region that climaxed with a stirring ceremony in Kuwait City to mark the 10th anniversary of the liberation of the Persian Gulf nation by a U.S.-led coalition.
The Gulf war "was a moral fight, a moral battle," said former President George Bush at a solemn ceremony to honor the 148 American troops who were battle-related casualties of the Gulf war.
"I said the United States will never let Kuwait down," Mr. Bush said. "We fought too hard. Too many died to make it happen. I say to these Kuwaiti soldiers: 'You're not alone. Never will be.' "
Kuwaiti officials expressed their appreciation for U.S. backing and pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who continues to threaten his smaller neighbor. U.S. officials said a 10-year defense agreement providing for the stationing of American forces in Kuwait would likely be renewed in September.
Other Arab leaders, however, have grown increasingly impatient with the 10-year-old sanctions program, which is seen in the region as punishing the Iraqi people without achieving its goal of forcing Saddam to step down.
The senior U.S. official said many of those leaders had responded well to the American plan for adjusting the sanctions. "We found high receptivity… . We are quite pleased with the reaction," he said.
The administration is also believed to hope a revamping of the sanctions might lead to an agreement for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors who were barred from Iraq after air strikes in December 1998.
Preliminary negotiations to that end opened yesterday in New York between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a delegation led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf. But Mr. Sahaf said during a break in the talks that Iraq was not interested in any trade for lighter sanctions.
"There will be no return for any inspectors in Iraq," at least until they have visited other countries in the region and certified that Israel no longer has weapons of mass destruction, he said. Israel is widely believed to have as many as 200 nuclear warheads.
The remark appeared to signal a hardening of Iraq's position. For the past two years, it has said it would again cooperate with the inspections once the sanctions were lifted.
The official on Mr. Powell's plane stressed that the administration hoped to consult with the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and talk again to Arab leaders before making a final decision on the sanctions. He said they hoped to reach a decision before an Arab summit scheduled to take place in Jordan late next month.
Mr. Powell, speaking to reporters during a flight to Brussels for a NATO ministers' meeting today, said he had won a commitment from Syrian President Bashar Assad to regularize the sale of Iraqi oil through a pipeline to Syria.
He said Mr. Assad had agreed to funnel revenues from the oil sales through the closely monitored U.N. oil-for-food program. It was the most explicit admission by Syria that it was receiving oil through the pipeline, which is reported to be carrying 150,000 barrels of oil per day.
"The president said to me he wants to put the pipeline under U.N. sanctions," Mr. Powell said.
Earlier, many of the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait attended the Liberation Day ceremony in their light-tan desert fatigue uniforms. The troops service and operate U.S. planes enforcing no-fly zones over southern Iraq.
"Obviously, we can't do everything in this world," said Sgt. Donald Tongue from Annapolis, an airman with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group. "We focus on some of them. We can't spread our forces too thin. I just feel this is one of our priorities."
Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the 541,000 U.S. troops who defeated Saddam's army in 1991, said he came to the ceremony so "the fallen heroes can see that they did not die in vain that Kuwait remains free."
"In this cynical world, there are still things worth fighting for and one of those things is freedom," he said.

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