- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday made and then backed away from a statement that the United States was considering a French proposal to suspend rather than permanently lift sanctions on Iraq.

Diplomats in New York said they were not surprised that the United States would consider the French plan, which may be the best that can be achieved when the issue comes to a vote as early as next week.

But they questioned why Mr. Powell would say so publicly because it weakens the U.S. position — a call for permanent lifting of sanctions — as diplomats go into negotiations on the form of a resolution on the sanctions issue.

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Mr. Powell insisted he was simply saying the United States is open to suggestions from other council members, even though its position has not changed.

“We think it’s much cleaner to lift the sanctions,” the secretary said in response to a question at a press conference in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, with Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg.

“But as part of the discussions and negotiations process, we will look at the idea of initially suspending sanctions,” he said. “We will see what the argument is for suspending sanctions and see if that makes any sense, but our preference is to lift, and that is why we put it in the resolution that way.”

As soon as he boarded his plane for a flight to Germany, Mr. Powell told reporters traveling with him that ending the sanctions is not just Washington’s preference but its goal.

“We are going for lifting of sanctions. We want to get 15-0 votes like we did with Resolution 1441,” he said in reference to the measure that restarted U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq last fall and ultimately became the basis of the Bush administration’s case for war.

“I think lifting is achievable,” the secretary added.

Yesterday, The Washington Times quoted U.N. diplomats as saying the United States may be moving closer to the position of France, which first proposed a suspension of the sanctions before a permanent lifting. The sticking point now is the exact duration of the suspension, the diplomats said.

A suspension would give the Security Council the opportunity to review the way the United States has managed Iraq’s oil resources at the end of a certain period.

Paris’ proposal is backed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, another veto-holding member of the Security Council. Mr. Powell met Mr. Putin in Moscow on Wednesday and told reporters at the Kremlin that the two countries still have “outstanding issues” on the new resolution but expressed optimism that they will be resolved.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia wanted to see a “legal basis for broad international involvement” in postwar Iraq. Mr. Powell said the issue of whether U.N. weapons inspectors should return to certify Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction, as Russia has demanded, was not resolved.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan insisted yesterday that the United States sees no value in suspending the sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“With the regime gone, there is no reason to do anything other than lift the sanctions, so that the Iraqi people can become fully integrated into the global economy,” he said. “We believe the sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible, and we intend to pursue a vote at the Security Council as early as next week.”

Mr. Powell will discuss the resolution with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer today in Berlin. Germany, an elected Security Council member, joined France and Russia in opposing the war in Iraq, but Mr. Schroeder said yesterday that the sanctions should be ended at once.

“We think that the sanctions have become superfluous and should be lifted as quickly as possible,” Mr. Schroeder told the German television station ARD while visiting Vietnam.

Mr. Saxe-Coburg, whose country is another current council member, also threw his support behind the U.S. resolution yesterday but said, “We have to clarify and streamline some technical and administrative details or divergence of opinion.”

Mr. Powell said the matter has to be resolved before Iraq’s refineries reach their storage capacity later this month.

“The important thing is to be able to begin moving oil out of Iraq in due course in order to generate revenue for the Iraqi people to benefit them solely, and also to make sure that the refineries keep running, so that gasoline, propane and other oil products that are needed by the people can be produced by the refineries,” he said.

Next week, Mr. Powell is scheduled to discuss the resolution with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin during a two-day trip to Paris, the highest-level visit by a Bush administration official to France since the war. The secretary will attend the annual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight, which includes the world’s seven most industrialized countries and Russia.

Mr. de Villepin gained star status in France and other nations opposed to the war with his passionate and direct exchanges with Mr. Powell in the Security Council during the debates preceding the Iraq campaign.

The Bush administration has made a clear distinction between the ways it intends to treat France and Russia in the future, despite their similar positions at the United Nations. The administration has threatened negative “consequences” for Paris, while talking about a “renewal” of its relationship with Moscow.

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