Security Council Unable to Reach Consensus On Iraq for Genereal Assembly Meeting

DESPITE CONCERTED DIPLOMATIC efforts surrounding the September 22 opening of the 54th session of the UN General Assembly, the permanent five members of the Security Council (P-5) could not reach a consensus on resuming weapons inspections in Iraq or lifting economic sanctions. Senior officials from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States met in London September 15 and in New York September 20. A September 23 meeting between the P-5 foreign ministers and the UN secretary-general resulted only in a bland statement calling for "the full implementation of the relevant Council resolutions."

UN weapons inspections and verification efforts ceased in December 1998 when Iraq broke off cooperation with the UN after four days of punitive air and missile strikes by the United States and Britain. Prompted by frustration with Baghdad's "cheat-and-retreat" strategy to prevent the elimination of its proscribed weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the U.S.-British strikes fractured the Security Council's 1991 consensus to compel Baghdad to disarm in compliance with Resolution 687 before it would lift the economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Since the strikes, Baghdad has maintained that it will not consider further UN weapons inspections or verification activities until economic sanctions are eased. UN officials in Iraq have reported an ongoing humanitarian crisis, which they have attributed to the sanctions. A September 13 report by the State Department, however, asserts that under the UN's oil-for-food program Iraq is importing more food than before the Persian Gulf War, and that Baghdad's politically inspired misallocation of food and medicine is responsible for the population's suffering. (To compensate for previous revenue shortfalls due to low oil prices, the Security Council decided October 4 to lift the current half-year ceiling on Iraqi oil sales from $5.256 billion to $8.296 billion.)

Since the December raids, Iraq's case for sanctions relief has been made with increasing vigor by France, Russia and China. Resolutions offered by Paris, Moscow and Beijing have proposed quick relief from most import and all export sanctions for Iraq, together with the creation of a monitoring system to prevent large-scale re-establishment of Baghdad's weapons programs.

The United States continues to insist that demonstrable cooperation from Iraq on revived weapons inspections must precede any sanctions relief; that Iraq must meet the Security Council's existing standards for disarmament; that relief from sanctions should be temporary, requiring regular council re-approval; and that sanctions relief should be limited to exports and investments in Iraq's oil-producing capabilities. Washington backs a proposal sponsored by Britain and the Netherlands, which has reportedly won the support of all Security Council members except France, Russia, China and Malaysia. A resolution of the situation is not expected in the near future.