- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to revise U.N. oil-for-food sanctions on Iraq, making it easier for Baghdad to import consumer goods but keeping a block on weapons materials.

Russia had blocked the measure for more than a year but supported the final version yesterday after it was significantly weakened from the original American proposal.

"This will make the process move more speedily" in approving imports of civilian goods, said John Wolf, assistant secretary for nonproliferation, at the State Department yesterday.

"This program will create a transparent process contracts destined for civilians will go forward."

After the 15-0 vote, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte told reporters, "We believe it will facilitate greatly the movement of humanitarian and purely civilian goods to the Iraqi economy."

But the so-called "smart sanctions" lack a key element sought by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell a tightening of the noose around Iraq by getting front-line states, such as Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the Persian Gulf states, to stop smuggling.

Mr. Powell's plan, announced last year, would have ended oil sales that put cash directly into Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's control. The aim was to prevent him from rebuilding his military and acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Powell also wanted to beef up border patrols to block imports of materials to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to deliver them.

"None of these elements are there" in the final resolution approved yesterday, said Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergei Lavrov in New York.

Russia had blocked the smart sanctions for more than a year, favoring a more liberal approach to Iraq that would let it repay billions of dollars owed to Russia.

Syria, Iraq's neighbor and the only Arab member of the 15-nation Security Council, decided at the last moment to vote in favor of the revision, after having delayed the vote for several days, criticizing the resolution and sanctions against Iraq.

In his response to the resolution, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said, "We see the American political goals in this exercise." He did not say whether Baghdad would honor the measure and would continue oil exports through the U.N. program, estimated at about $10 billion a year.

The system approved yesterday renews the sanctions for six months and takes effect at the end of the month.

U.N. sanctions on Iraqi oil sales were imposed after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The oil-for-food program was set up in 1996, allowing Iraqi oil to be sold through a U.N. system that allocated cash for humanitarian and other civilian goods.

Cash also went to reparations for Kuwait, which was invaded in 1990 and saw its oil fields set ablaze by retreating Iraqi troops.

The system had bogged down with $5 billion in contracts blocked by U.S. and some British objections to items with likely dual use by Iraq's military and civilians.

Mr. Powell proposed the smart sanctions during his first official Middle East visit in February 2001 after irate Arab diplomats and reporters complained to him that suffering Iraqi children were malnourished because of the U.N. sanctions.

U.S. officials told reporters that Saddam was responsible for any malnutrition and lack of medicines because he diverted resources from needy Iraqi people to his Republican Guards and other allies.

While foreign visitors were brought on tours of hospitals with sickly children, Saddam built a series of spectacular palaces, U.S. officials said.

But the Iraqis won the propaganda war, said U.S. and congressional leaders, and Mr. Powell feared a collapse of the U.S.-Arab coalition that defeated Iraq.

Mr. Powell proposed to make it easier for humanitarian goods to enter Iraq while tightening controls on smuggled imports of weapons materials and smuggled exports of Iraqi oil.

"We didn't do as well as we could in explaining how the food programs worked diversion by Baghdad led to people suffering," said a senior State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity yesterday.

"This [new system] makes clear there are no impediments to the sale of food to the Iraqi economy."

The system approved yesterday has no provision to prevent Saddam from diverting food and medicine from needy children.

It will speed approvals of requests by Iraq to import food, medicine and even industrial equipment such as oil drills and power plants, the official said.

But it also will include a 300-page list of items that could have dual use civilian and military and will require special scrutiny to ensure they are intended for civilian projects.

The senior official, however, said that without the return of U.N. weapons monitors to Iraq it will be impossible to be certain that dual-use equipment is not diverted to military use.

Iraq continues to seek to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as the missiles to deliver them, the official said. However, he cited the need to preserve intelligence secrecy and would not divulge details of the programs.

The system will end the U.S. role of blocking contracts. And objections to individual items in a contract would not prevent the rest of the contract from going forward.

Vendors also would be required to give clear information with each contract, proving that items to be imported are destined for civilian use.

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