Global Policy Forum

Sanctions on Iraq 'Could Go in Six Months'


By Richard Beeston

Times of London
November 20, 2000

Britain has extended an olive branch to President Saddam Hussein, promising to lift sanctions "within six months" and to help Iraq to reintegrate into the international community if Baghdad allows UN weapons inspectors back into the country. In a move that could cause serious friction with the United States, which is working for the overthrow of the Saddam regime, Peter Hain, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, said that he wanted to see the decade-long embargo lifted.

"I want to say it clearly now, because it has not been said as clearly before," he told The Times. "I want to see sanctions suspended so that everything can move forward. Iraq can move forward, the region can move forward.

"But the only vehicle for that is (UN Security Council Resolution) 1284, which in return for allowing inspectors back would trigger within months, literally within 180 days, sanctions suspension."

Although his message was a broad restatement of existing policy, the tone was vastly different from earlier statements. Britain has been under growing pressure from moderate Arab countries to ease the ten-year embargo on Iraq, which is being broken almost daily by flights, VIP visits and cross-border trade. Across the Arab and Islamic worlds, Britain and America's tough stand against Baghdad has been widely criticised for punishing the Iraqi people and leaving the regime intact.

Mr Hain said that in addition to his public appeal to the Iraqi leadership to co-operate with the UN, Britain had been making indirect approaches to Baghdad through friendly Arab governments in an effort to persuade the Iraqis to change their minds. "I have been meeting with a number of key foreign ministers in the region, in the Gulf and other Arab states, who have been seeking to have a dialogue with Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, about how 1284 can be implemented," he said. "I am hopeful that if a way can be found for Iraq's dignity to be respected, while allowing the arms inspectors in, then we could see sanctions suspended within six months."

Even before that happens, Britain is prepared to show flexibility in other areas. Mr Hain said that talks were under way with the French and Russians at the United Nations to draw up a system that would allow regular flights to resume to Iraq, so long as they were searched before take-off to make sure they were not helping Baghdad to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, he hinted that if the Iraqis began to co-operate there could be movement on the question of the no-fly zones, the areas of northern and southern Iraq being patrolled by British and American warplanes.

Taken together, Mr Hain's remarks suggest a reorientation of British policy towards Iraq. Although Foreign Office officials are concerned that the Iraqis are still concealing stockpiles of germs and chemical agents used in the manufacture of biological weapons and poison gas, they would evidently prefer to have UN inspectors on the ground rather than the existing situation, where there are no monitors in Iraq at all.

One issue in particular - the survival of Saddam - could divide Britain and the US, which have remained united for a decade on their approach to Iraq. Although successive US Presidents have sought the removal of Saddam and have been backing the Iraqi Opposition, Mr Hain insisted that who ruled Iraq was not his concern.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on Civilian Flights to Iraq
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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