Iraq Rejects U.N.'s Latest Oil-for-Food Proposal
By John M. Goshko
It was not immediately clear, though, whether the Iraqi rejection, contained in a letter from Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, meant that President Saddam Hussein's government would refuse to accept the U.N. offer or was simply seeking better terms. In the past, the Iraqis have raised objections to various provisions of the oil-for-food program, only to accept them grudgingly after weeks of argument and delay.
Their criticism was directed at Secretary General Kofi Annan's recommendation that the Security Council increase from $2.14 billion to $5.2 billion the amount of oil Iraq is permitted to sell each six months. The sales are intended to generate foreign exchange to buy humanitarian supplies for the 22 million Iraqi people, who have been suffering under sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The Security Council has directed that the sanctions remain until Iraq eliminates its weapons of mass destruction. But Annan and the 15 countries on the council are generally agreed that the oil-for-food exemption to the sanctions should not be linked to the confrontation in which the United States and Britain threaten military action if Baghdad continues to obstruct U.N. weapons inspectors.
Any increase in the oil-for-food exemption must be approved by the council. The plan -- the third six-month phase of a program first approved in December 1996 -- would go into effect only after Iraq prepares, and Annan accepts, a detailed plan for buying and distributing the supplies under U.N. monitoring.
However, Sahhaf's letter, received here today, bitterly denounced the plan for spelling out which categories of supplies Iraq could buy and how oil sales receipts should be allotted to each. Annan's proposal would earmark most of the money for food, medicine, water purification, education and repairs of the Iraqi electrical system, which was badly damaged during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"We categorically reject this formula and wish to state that any addition to the purchase and distribution plan under phase three remains the sole responsibility of the Iraqi government," Sahhaf wrote.
He also warned that Iraq would stop pumping oil under the existing program if the United Nations fails to meet Baghdad's terms for increasing oil sales. But he was vague about when Iraq might stop pumping or selling oil, and U.N. officials said privately that they believe the Iraqi attitude was more of a negotiating tactic than an outright rejection of Annan's proposals.
In the past, the Iraqis have chafed at the tight control the council has imposed on distribution of supplies, including the requirement that a substantial amount go to the northern areas controlled by Kurdish rebels who have broken away from Baghdad's control.
The council is scheduled to begin considering on Monday a draft resolution by Britain, Sweden and Portugal to approve Annan's proposals.
France, which advocates greater flexibility in dealing with Iraq, has prepared an alternative plan incorporating some Iraqi demands such as permission to import oil equipment and spare parts. But the United States, which has the power to veto any council decision, is expected to block any attempt to ease U.N. supervision and controls.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company