- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, March 25 (UPI) — Jordanian officials refuted as "irresponsible" Iraqi accusations that it had prevented or obstructed supplies from entering Iraq, insisting that shipments between the two countries were continuing.

Information Minister Mohammad Edwan and Trade and Industry Minister Salah Bashir said Tuesday they were "surprised" by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammad Mehdi Saleh's "irresponsible" remarks that the Jordanian authorities were preventing supplies bound for Iraq.

They also described as "completely untrue" the Iraqi officials' accusations that Jordan was holding up the supplies in the border town of Ruwaished.

Bashir said his government "has not stopped or delayed supplies going into Iraq or coming into Jordan from" the eastern border since the Anglo-U.S. military operations were launched on Iraq early Thursday.

He said the only supplies stocked up on the border were those of the Jordan Red Crescent Society and humanitarian relief for an expected influx of fleeing refugees, which has not yet started.

Bashir insisted that the Jordan-Iraq trade protocol was still in action, that the border had not been closed to shipments between the two countries, and that "hundreds of shipments have gone into Iraq from Jordan since the outbreak of the war, and continue to do so until today."

He said the supplies that have entered Iraq from Jordan since the beginning of hostilities included blood, beef, agricultural products and medical supplies.

He said that some exporters might have opted to stop their shipments to Iraq because of security considerations due to the military operations, "but there is no decision on our part for the obstruction of the movement of goods."

The minister added that his Iraqi counterpart had sent him a brief message earlier in the day requesting talks on "Iraqi priorities and new arrangements."

Bashir said he intended to contact his Iraqi counterpart later Tuesday to "discuss these priorities and new arrangements. We are ready to do whatever we can to serve the Iraqi requests under these conditions."

Information Minister Edwan also denied reports that his country had frozen Iraqi assets in Jordanian banks.

In addition, he denied that Jordan had taken a "political decision" to stop its Iraqi imports of oil from Iraq, Jordan's only oil supplier.

He said the oil supplies from Iraq, transported overland by tanker trucks, stopped since the beginning of the war, but that neither his government nor the Iraqi government had taken such a decision.

Iraqi officials said earlier Tuesday that Jordan had stopped its oil imports from Iraq, half of which was presented free "as a gift from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a reward for the honorable support of the Jordanian people," and the other half purchased at concessionary prices.

Edwan said that the oil supplies to his country were stopped because truck drivers did not want to risk their lives under the U.S.-British air strikes on Iraq.

He added that Jordan was expected to receive its oil needs from "other brotherly Arab states" that pledged to provide the kingdom with petroleum.

But the minister refused to name the supplying countries or when the first oil shipment would enter the country.

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