After five months of thorny negotiations, Britain today circulated a draft resolution of the U.N. Security Council that would permit Iraq to rebuild its oil industry if it submits to renewed inspections by a U.N. weapons monitoring team.
The United States backs the resolution and is pushing for a vote on it by the end of the week. "We are coming to closure," said Peter Burleigh, the deputy U.S. representative at the United Nations. "Some of us need to make a political decision about how they stand on the resolution, and the council needs to move forward."
Burleigh appeared to be referring to Russia's position, which remains uncertain. Although the resolution has broad support on the 15-member Security Council, Western diplomats said they feared a Russian veto, which effectively would end the Clinton administration's effort to get U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq as well as dash Iraq's hopes of obtaining relief from nine years of economic sanctions.
The trade embargo was imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the first act of the Persian Gulf War. The United States and Britain have refused to lift the sanctions until Iraq complies with the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire, which included a pledge to halt its development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov has been seeking assurances that the Security Council will swiftly ease sanctions if Baghdad allows the return of U.N. weapons inspectors after an absence of nearly a year. Without such assurances, Lavrov said yesterday, the resolution is "not implementable." Burleigh said high-level discussions were continuing in an attempt to narrow the gap with Russia.
Meanwhile, diplomats said the council was close to agreement on a separate resolution renewing the oil-for-food exemption to the sanctions, which allows Iraq to sell $5.2 billion of oil every six months to pay for imports of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Burleigh said the United States will introduce a proposal to renew the exemption Thursday.
The draft resolution on weapons inspections would reward Iraq for cooperating by allowing it to sell as much oil as it is capable of pumping, but would continue to place stiff controls on how the money is spent. It also would call on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to prepare recommendations within 60 days on the needs of Iraq's oil industry; a panel of experts appointed by Annan would consider whether foreign companies should be allowed to invest in Iraqi oil fields and pipelines.
The resolution also would give the secretary-general an expanded role in overseeing the distribution of food, medicine and humanitarian goods. Annan has criticized the United States for using its position on a monitoring committee to hold up about $500 million of imports under the existing oil-for-food deal.
Responding to Iraqi allegations that the United States and Britain pulled the strings of the previous weapons inspectors, the draft resolution would place a new layer of bureaucracy between the weapons inspectors and the Security Council. The chairman of the new arms control agency--the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)--would be required to seek "professional advice and guidance" from a "college of commissioners" before reporting to the Security Council or making "significant policy decisions." An ill-defined "management board" also would oversee the commission.
If Iraq cooperates with the new inspection team, the Security Council would suspend sanctions for renewable periods of six months, although it would still forbid military imports and purchases of equipment with dual military and civilian uses.
Diplomats involved in the negotiations say the United States and Russia remain deadlocked over a few key issues, particularly the question of what would "trigger" a suspension of sanctions. The United States has insisted that Iraq demonstrate "full compliance" with a series of "key disarmament tasks" before sanctions can be eased. Russia has argued that sanctions should be suspended as soon as Baghdad begins cooperating with weapons inspections.
"The major issue is the trigger," said Qin Huasun, China's ambassador to the United Nations, adding that Beijing would like to vote in favor of the resolution, but will do so only if Russia's concerns are addressed. France, which has sought to narrow the differences between Russia and the United States, has not said whether it will vote for the current draft.
Russia also wants the suspension of sanctions to be accompanied by an amendment allowing Baghdad to resume commercial air traffic in and out of Baghdad. The United States has indicated it will consider some Russian amendments, but only if Moscow supports the basic resolution.
The United States and Britain are eager for a vote this week because they face the prospect of losing support at the end of the month, when five new members, including Ukraine, will rotate onto the council.
Iraq, however, has given no indication that it will agree to the resolution even if Russia backs it. "Why should Iraq accept such a joke?" asked Baghdad's U.N. ambassador, Saeed Hassan. "It gives Iraq nothing."