Thursday, May 17, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.S. backs easing of Iraqi sanctions

Los Angeles Times

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Sanctions-related deaths have declined, Iraq reports

UNITED NATIONS - In a significant policy shift, Britain - with support from the United States - proposed yesterday to lift U.N. sanctions on civilian goods going to Iraq while keeping bans on military materials and tightening smuggling controls.

The move would end a decadelong U.N. embargo that is widely viewed here as having failed to prevent President Saddam Hussein from rearming his military. Neighbors and supporters of the Persian Gulf nation have been increasingly brazen about defying the controls, smuggling goods in and oil out.

The United States had long resisted any changes to the sanctions without evidence that Iraq has abandoned development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But faced with a losing propaganda battle and a potential security threat, Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered a review of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Now the United States and Britain are seeking to more sharply focus the sanctions.

"The goal of this process is to control effectively Iraq's ability to buy weapons, to control Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors, especially to control Iraq's ability to threaten its region with weapons of mass destruction," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington. "On the other hand, we will smooth out the process and enable civilian goods to reach the Iraqi people."

The United Nations imposed sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Troops from a U.S.-led coalition drove out Iraqi forces the following year and severely damaged Saddam's military. Iraq has long complained that the sanctions have led to hunger and deaths among its people.

Under the present sanctions, Iraq cannot import anything unless specifically permitted by the United Nations. In the proposed program, it could import everything except what is prohibited for military purposes.

That should ease red tape on basic items from sewing machines to car parts, goods that often get caught in the United Nations' complicated approval process.

At the same time, the United States and Britain are circulating a highly specific list of "controlled goods" that would be banned. The list would include both military goods and some "dual-use" commercial items that could be employed by Iraq's armed forces.

The measures would maintain controls on Iraq's oil revenues that are used to buy humanitarian imports under an existing program known as "oil-for-food." They also would continue to require Iraq to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to check if the country has abandoned development of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq expelled inspectors in 1998.

Iraq, which wants an end to all outside controls, has said it will not cooperate with the new sanctions plans and has warned its neighbors it would halt oil exports if they do.

The British draft resolution will be circulated next week in the 15-member Security Council with an aim to vote on it before the next six-month phase of the oil-for-food program begins June 4.

If accepted by the Security Council, the new program will end the complicated procedures that Iraq goes through twice a year to have orders of new goods approved. The United Nations will still check contracts for such goods, but the process is expected to be much faster.

The French have offered tentative support to the draft. The Russian and Chinese representatives said yesterday they are still studying the proposals, though they are expected to back the new plan.

British diplomats said the proposals were developed jointly with the United States, although their nation is, for the moment, the lone sponsor of the resolution. The United States might join in introducing the resolution next week.

U.S. and European officials said they expect negotiations among council members about whether to allow the resumption of international investment in Iraq's oil industry, a step that could benefit French, Russian and Chinese companies. They also anticipate tough bargaining over whether Iraqi revenue could be used to pay off Baghdad's debts, a change favored by Russia, which is owed several billion dollars.

The proposal would authorize Iraq to export oil through Syria under U.N. auspices in an effort to halt the smuggling of more than 100,000 barrels a day outside international control.

Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.


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