Global Policy Forum

US Battles to Enforce Iraq Sanctions

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
September 26, 2000

During two-weeks of closed-door debate, the United States has been pressuring U.N. Security Council members to uphold sanctions against Iraq as a second French plane plans to fly to Iraq later this week in defiance of 10-year-old sanctions, diplomats said Tuesday.

Several council members said the sanctions have lost their edge, and initiatives such as recent French and Russian flights have further weakened the economic embargo imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The second French plane is expected to fly into Baghdad's renovated international airport on Friday carrying an international delegation. The first one landed in Baghdad last weekend while a second Russian plane also arrived there. The planes carried doctors and athletes.

The flights by private groups have been backed by the French and Russian governments, on the grounds that the U.N. embargo is not aimed at air traffic, as it was against Libya in the past. Rather, they point out that the embargo simply bans cargoes or shipments of unauthorized goods to Iraq except for humanitarian purposes.

Friday's flight will carry former Prime Minister Claude Cheysson, at least 10 French deputies, and parliamentarians from France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Some 30 doctors will be onboard.

The United States has accused the French of violating the sanctions regime. No other council member has openly criticized Russia or France, but the dispute has boiled in official legal papers being circulated among the members, and diplomats said France has received tacit support from some members, including Malaysia. The United States, France, Russia, China and Britain are the council's permanent members.

Earlier this year, the United States stopped a Russian ship it charged with carrying Iraqi oil, and said there had been a dramatic increase in such illegal shipments. Last month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Baghdad and invited President Saddam Hussein to attend this week's meeting of oil exporting countries in Caracas.

Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid said he also plans to visit Iraq. Both Chavez and Wahid called for ending the sanctions against Iraq. France and Russia have also made similar appeals on the ground that civilians, women and children - not Saddam Hussein's government - are most hurt by the sanctions.

In New York, France and the United States have been battling behind closed doors. The diplomats said it appeared that France was winning the battle in interpreting U.N. resolution 670, which lays out part of the sanctions against Iraq.

"Essentially, it's a political move (the flights)," said a Malaysian diplomat whose country is a council member. "You can argue whichever way you like, it is a gray area and it is open for interpretation." "There is no way you can stop those flights now," he said. "The question now is moral, and whether the council has the moral authority to uphold its sanctions after 10 years. The sanctions have lost (their) effectiveness."

Resolution 670 allows countries wanting to fly into Iraq to simply notify the council's sanctions panel, known as the 661 committee after the resolution that set it up to monitor the sanctions. The committee can authorize governments to sell humanitarian goods to Iraq if their requests are considered valid.

France and Russia notified the committee before the flights. But France encountered resistance from the committee's chairman, Dutch Ambassador Peter van Walsum, who apparently wanted official authorization for the flights.

Resolution 670 also stipulates that overflight permission should be denied to planes on their way to Iraq and Kuwait that contain cargo violating the sanctions regime. France and Russia said their planes carried no such cargo and could be checked by the U.N. in Baghdad.

The U.S. said in a legal note to the council this week that permission should be denied to all flights to Iraq unless they are certified by the U.N. as part of humanitarian services or for peacekeeping at the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.

But the French said in a document that "no practice of the sanctions committee has ever been established regarding air traffic. The members of the committee have never been able to agree on specific procedures to implement Resolution 670." The sanctions committee comprises the same 15 members of the council and its decisions are taken by consensus.

More Information on Civilian Flights to Iraq
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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