- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell will face questioning next week on Capitol Hill by House members who are skeptical of his offer to ease sanctions on consumer goods to Iraq to win Arab backing for tighter arms controls on Saddam Hussein.
"The rationale for sanctions is to prevent production of weapons of mass destruction," says one Republican legislative aide. "Is weakening sanctions helping us achieve this goal?"
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and new chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has asked Mr. Powell to appear on Wednesday to explain the changes.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahaf quickly rejected the plan to ease consumer sanctions while tightening controls over oil and weapons shipments, and Iraqi officials at the United Nations said U.N. inspectors would not be allowed back into Iraq under any conditions to determine whether Saddam is building weapons of mass destruction. The secretary of state had said before he left for the Middle East that sanctions would not be eased until the inspectors are allowed in again.
A senior State Department official said yesterday the change in policy had been discussed at the highest levels in the White House before Mr. Powell's trip and was approved by President Bush.
"He wasn't making it up as we went along," the State Department official said.
"Since the beginning of the administration, he had a number of discussions on strategy with [Vice President Richard B.] Cheney and [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice. They had a couple of meetings before the trip to agree on the approach.
"The president has not decided on a policy, but the direction on that particular part of the puzzle was set before he left."
Nevertheless, some members of Congress question the decision to ease the sanctions on Iraq so soon after Mr. Powell's confirmation hearing, where he pledged to "reinvigorate" the sanctions.
Mr. Hyde "certainly has questions about the policy," the Republican House aide said. "We need a better sense of where the administration is going with this.
"In his confirmation hearings, Secretary Powell indicated that sanctions against Iraq need to be reinvigorated," he said. "What does this mean in the context of his statements to our allies in the Middle East?"
Mr. Powell made the offer to ease certain sanctions while tightening others during a three-day swing through five Arab capitals and Israel. Representatives of several Arab governments were clearly angry. Mr. Powell told reporters traveling with him that he found wide support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria for preventing Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
Proponents of easing sanctions on consumer goods say it is necessary because Iraq is winning the propaganda war in the Middle East by decrying the U.N.-imposed sanctions as killing Iraqi children through hunger and lack of medicine.
"We had lost this one on the propaganda front," said Patrick L. Clawson, an analyst with the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.
"They were yelling in the U.N. and the U.S. and the Arab world about the sanctions' effect on children, so he said, 'OK, we'll change 'em.' He had it totally planned before he left Washington."
Mr. Powell said he won backing from Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt for easing restrictions on the sale of food, medicine and other consumer items while tightening controls over access to weapons and oil exports.
However, before he landed in Cairo on Saturday to face Egyptian and other Arab journalists shouting questions about starving Iraqi children, he indicated in public statements that he was ready to adjust the sanctions.
"What the president wanted him to do was to talk about this approach with countries in the region and get their views, and we will need their cooperation in controlling weapons, money and smuggling," the State Department official said.
"It doesn't do any good to adopt a policy in Washington if there is no support in the region. It wouldn't be any better than the previous policy," the official said. "The president will make the final decision whether to go forward."
Mr. Powell yesterday called President Bush to report on his Middle East trip, and "the president was pleased with what he heard," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Mr. Powell dispatched his assistant secretary for Near East affairs, Edward "Ned" Walker, to Turkey, Oman and the United Arab Emirates yesterday in an effort to tighten newly focused sanctions around Iraq.
The new focus is on blocking smuggling of oil through Syria, Jordan, Turkey and the Gulf ports to cut off funds Iraq can spend on weapons and to tighten controls over imports along its borders to block weapons materials.
Mr. Powell's visit to the Middle East followed by the bombing earlier last month of five Iraqi radar sites used to target U.S. and British warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone over portions of southern and northern Iraq.
The United States had been unable to persuade the Arab allies in the 1991 Persian Gulf war that Saddam earned enough money from U.N.-monitored oil sales to buy food and medicine to ease the suffering of his people, but used it instead on palaces and weapons.
Mr. Powell argued that it was time to abandon the Clinton administration policy and find a new one before the sanctions regime crumbled entirely.
"He was successful," said Mr. Clawson. "He changed the topic of discussion from starving Iraqi children to weapons of mass destruction.
"That defused the opposition and changed discussions back to making sanctions tougher on some items."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday after meeting with Iraqi officials that the Powell ideas would be presented to the Security Council.
He recalled that Mr. Powell had visited U.N. headquarters just before his Middle East trip and "he did hint at [his new ideas] without going into details, emphasizing the fact that the objective of the sanctions was not to hurt the Iraqi people, that they were not the targets, and one has to find a way of strengthening the disarmament regime and giving relief to the Iraqi people."
Brookings Institution analyst Meghan O'Sullivan published a report Feb. 12 calling for much of the changes Mr. Powell announced during his trip to the Middle East.
"We needed a new Iraq policy because the old one was under pressure since August," she said in an interview yesterday.
"I argued in my report that we needed to regain international support for the measures that have been most critical in containing Saddam maintaining control over revenues from oil exports and over military and technology imports to Iraq."

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