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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Security Council Struggles on Iraq; France Offers New Compromise

Howard Diamond

THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL remained deadlocked in June over competing strategies for restoring UN weapons inspections and monitoring activities in Iraq. In closed-door debates, Security Council members considered three resolutions, including a new French proposal, that seek to balance incentives for Iraq, in the form of sanctions relief, with continued insistence that Baghdad eliminate all of its proscribed weapons capabilities. Much of the Security Council has indicated its support for a proposal offered by Britain and the Netherlands that, despite several revisions, remains unacceptable to France, Russia and China.

The five permanent members of the council have long been divided about how to deal with Iraq, but have made little progress since the United States and Britain conducted a 70-hour bombing campaign against Iraq in mid-December 1998. Since the air and missile strikes, there have been no chemical, biological or missile inspections by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and no nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inside Iraq. Iraqi officials reiterated in June that Baghdad will not consider allowing international inspectors back into Iraq without prior relief from sanctions.

The differences between the current competing drafts focus on four aspects of sanctions relief: the timing for suspending sanctions; the degree to which sanctions would be lifted; the mechanism for restoring sanctions in the event of Iraqi non-compliance; and the control of the money from renewed Iraqi exports.

The latest British-Dutch plan would replace UNSCOM with a nearly identical successor called the UN Commission on Inspection and Monitoring (UNCIM), and would lift the ban on Iraqi exports—but not imports—120 days after UNCIM and IAEA reported they were receiving full cooperation from Iraq. Under this proposal, money from Iraqi exports would continue to be placed in a UN escrow account to be used for humanitarian purposes. Restrictions on exports by Iraq would be lifted for four months at a time and would require the Security Council to approve continued suspension. The British-Dutch draft would also specifically authorize Iraqi oil sales to Turkey, which have been a major source of illicit revenue for Iraq.

The United States has said it would support the British-Dutch resolution, which has been co-sponsored by Argentina and Slovenia and has also gathered support from other non-permanent members of the Security Council. Winning France's support appears to be the key challenge facing the British-Dutch plan because its vote would give the proposal a majority in the Security Council, allowing it to pass provided that Russia and China withheld their vetoes.

A competing Russian-Chinese-French draft proceeds on the basis that Iraq's disarmament obligations have been substantially fulfilled and would suspend the ban on both imports and exports to Iraq once UN inspectors returned to Iraq and established a reinforced ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) system. Under the Russian-Chinese-French plan, Baghdad would control the revenues produced by trade. The draft would restore sanctions if the UN secretary-general reported a breakdown in the OMV system, but would otherwise require affirmative action by the Security Council to restore sanctions.

Introduced in late June, the French draft takes pieces from both the British-Dutch and the Russian-Chinese-French proposals in an attempt to bridge the strongly held differences among the five permanent members of the Security Council. Like the British-Dutch plan, the French plan calls for replacing UNSCOM with a virtually identical "Control Commission" that would have the same rights, assets and responsibilities that UNSCOM had. Like the trilateral plan, the French draft would suspend sanctions on Iraq following the establishment of an OMV system, restore them if the OMV system broke down, and require a vote by the Security Council to reimpose the sanctions otherwise. Absent a shift by one of the permanent five members, the Security Council is likely to remain deadlocked.