- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday defended U.S. moves to ease some sanctions on Iraq, saying he was "fairly confident" this is the right policy.
Arab leaders have shied away from any public backing for his plan, but Mr. Powell insisted in his remarks to reporters yesterday that, in private, the backing of Arab leaders "remains intact."
U.N. sanctions on Iraq under the Clinton administration were "about to crash," Mr. Powell said. He argued that the best way now to contain Saddam Hussein was to ease the pain of Iraqi civilians while clamping down harder on Saddam's oil and weapons transfers.
"Frankly, the alternative was just to keep on a downward path crashing into a hillside. The sanctions policy was collapsing before our eyes."
President Bush said last month the sanctions were like "Swiss cheese" and "that meant that they weren't very effective… . We're going to review current sanction policy and review options as to how to make the sanctions work."
Mr. Powell has been asked to appear before the House International Relations Committee today to explain why he proposed to ease the sanctions after having promised in January to "reinvigorate" the program imposed by the United Nations after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Mr. Powell may also be asked whether the Bush administration is committed to getting weapons inspectors back into Iraq.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney said in an interview with The Washington Times published this week that the administration did not "want to hinge our policy just to the question of whether or not the inspectors go back in there."
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that a return of weapons inspectors remains a central goal of the United States.
Mr. Powell said yesterday that the notion the sanctions were killing Iraqi children, combined with U.S. support for Israel during the latest Palestinian uprising, had created a perception in the Middle East that America was anti-Arab.
"There is linkage to the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians… . This is now a regional situation," he said.
"This is an effort and I think it will be a successful effort to stabilize it and get it to a new altitude where … we will keep [Iraq] from moving toward weapons of mass destruction, and we will keep them from developing their military capability again, just the way we have for the last 10 years.
"But we will not be the ones to blame because the Iraqi people, it is claimed, are not getting what they need to take care of their children or to take care of their needs."
After his barnstorming three-day visit to five Arab capitals last week, Mr. Powell said Arab leaders supported blocking Iraq from developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
He told reporters the Arab leaders also backed his plan to ease restrictions on Iraqi imports of consumer goods, even some with possible weapons applications such as refrigerated trucks and water pumps.
But after he left the region, there was little public backing for his plan, and several Arab officials criticized it in the Arab press. Nevertheless, Mr. Powell said yesterday that private backing by leaders remained firm.
"The expressions of support that I received there remain intact I still feel that there is support for this kind of a change," he said.
"I am still optimistic about the support that I received, and I think that support will become public in the days and weeks ahead as [Arab leaders] consider how to support the initiatives we will be taking with the United Nations to bring such a change in policy into effect."
Mr. Powell's goal has been to clamp down on unsupervised Iraqi oil sales, which bring Saddam millions of dollars he can then use to try to obtain material to rebuild his military and obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq has been allowed to sell about 2 million barrels of oil per day under a U.N. sanctions program that funneled the revenue into food and medicine for Iraq and reparations to Kuwait for destruction during the 1990 Iraqi occupation.
But in recent months, Iraq has been smuggling out another 450,000 barrels of oil per day, said Jim Placke, director for Middle East Research at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
The oil is leaving Iraq by tanker truck to Turkey and Jordan, by ship to Gulf ports and by pipeline to Syria.
"It's too early for us to see if there has been any change" in the smuggled oil shipments, Mr. Placke said.
Much of the oil came to the United States until November, when Iraq tried to force the purchasers to kick back a surcharge outside of the oil-for-food program.
Since then, Iraq has dropped the French and Russian oil buyers it had favored and now sells through small, little-known middlemen. U.S., British and Japanese companies have long been blocked by Iraq from directly buying its oil.


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