- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Russia yesterday dropped objections to a U.S. plan that eases some sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf war while toughening restrictions on items that could help Saddam Hussein make weapons of mass destruction.
The agreement, reached in Moscow during talks with U.S. officials this week, would help the United States undercut claims that the U.N. sanctions hurt ordinary Iraqi civilians, U.S. officials said.
"The intent of this approach is to lift all sanctions on purely civilian goods flowing to Iraq while focusing U.N. controls on militarily useful items that Iraq could use to rearm," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf won the Russian support for the "smart sanctions" during talks in Moscow Wednesday and yesterday.
A U.N. Security Council final agreement on the revised sanctions is expected by May 30, Mr. Boucher said yesterday.
Saddam has said that Iraqi children have died by the thousands due to the existing oil-for-food U.N. sanctions regime which since 1996 allowed Iraq to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian items with proceeds from oil sales.
The U.S. plan to drop sanctions on consumer goods aims "frankly to eliminate the argument Saddam Hussein has been using to some success in the Arab world that the sanctions are harming children," said a State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who visited the Middle East shortly after taking office, argued that Iraq was allowed to buy ample food and medicine but that Saddam deliberately chose to spend his oil revenue on palaces rather than humanitarian goods.
Neverthelss, Mr. Powell heard the complaints about Iraqi suffering echoing throughout the region and devised the smart sanctions as a way to defuse Arab anger over the perception that the U.N. controls hurt ordinary people.
"This is a step in that direction," the State Department official said. "It basically allows goods to go into Iraq without being set for review if it appears they are clearly and purely for civilian use. The U.N. only controls militarily useful or dual-use items."
Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was then confronted with a U.N.-authorized international coalition of 28 countries, led by a U.S. force of half a million, which drove his army back into Iraq.
The sanctions were put in place in 1996, pending proof that Saddam had halted efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Inspectors sent to verify the end of the weapons programs were expelled in 1998.
The State Department official denied accusations that the existing sanctions had harmed the Iraqi people.
"That's clearly false because any humanitarian goods have been going in," he said.
"The Iraqi News Agency said measles vaccine was blocked. It's not true. Four million doses went in under the old system."
U.S. plans for the smart sanctions were blocked in the Security Council last year when Russia refused to go along.
Russia had long sought to reopen trade with Iraq, which owes it $7 billion for weapons bought in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and earlier. It had sought to end all sanctions and opposed the U.S. smart-sanctions plan.
But as U.S. Russian-ties improved after the September 11 attacks, Russia agreed last fall to approve the new list of goods restricted for export to Iraq by May 30.
Winning Russian approval makes U.N. approval of the new sanctions regime all but certain.
"The council's ability to address the issue will send a strong message to Iraq and to the world community about the imperative that Iraq comply with its U.N. Security Council obligations," Mr. Boucher said.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow yesterday, Mr. Wolf said, "Our hope is that the council will act as soon as possible and it will act unanimously on this new resolution."
Russia's Foreign Ministry said the talks this week reached "significant progress in coordinating the main parameters" of the future sanctions scheme.

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