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– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
UN Security Council Not Likely To Agree on Iraqi Sanctions

Alex Wagner

As a July 3 deadline approaches, Russian opposition appears likely to prevent the United Nations Security Council from passing a U.S.-endorsed, British draft resolution to revamp the 11-year-old sanctions regime against Iraq.

Since June 20, Security Council technical experts have been discussing a slightly revised version of a British draft resolution initially submitted in May, which would, among other things, allow most commercial transactions with Iraq to proceed and bring all illegal oil-export relationships under UN control.

Over the June 23 weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, informing him that Russia “cannot allow” passage of the British approach to reshaping the current sanctions regime, which was imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. During a Security Council meeting June 26, Moscow’s ambassador to the UN, Sergey Lavrov, criticized the British draft for burying hopes for ongoing arms monitoring and for damaging the legitimate economic interests of many countries, including Russia.

In response to the British proposal, Lavrov announced submission of a new Russian draft resolution, which purported to present a “comprehensive approach” to resolving the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Lavrov said that the Russian draft contained “clear criteria for suspending and then lifting sanctions, tied with the deployment” of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which was created by Security Council Resolution 1284 in December 1999.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher responded harshly to Russia’s criticisms of the British draft and questioned the motives of “other members of the Security Council, including some with extensive commercial relationships with Iraq.” Boucher called it “ironic that now that the United States has proposed a radical shift in how we deal with Iraq.…some on the Security Council oppose this change despite the fact that they had long advocated it.” Addressing Russia’s rejection of the revised British draft, Boucher shot back, “Our goal is not to allow Iraq what it wants. We have seen where that leads.”

Outside the Security Council on June 26, James Cunningham, acting U.S. representative to the UN, dismissed the Russian draft resolution as having “very little substance” and said that it would “not be a useful basis for discussion.”

Among the other permanent members of the Security Council, the primary point of contention had been the contents of a comprehensive “goods review list,” a catalog of weapons-related and “dual-use” items that would require UN authorization before being imported by Iraq. The list would be composed of three elements: proscribed items identified by UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency as related to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles; conventional and dual-use technology items governed by the Wassenaar Arrangement, a multilateral export control regime; and items detailed in a document proposed by the United States.

However, on June 29, Cunningham announced that Britain, China, France, and the United States had come to an agreement on what items would be included on the goods review list.

Discussions have intensified in the last month, as a general consensus emerged among council members that the current sanctions regime needs to be refocused. The United States had hoped to obtain agreement on altering the sanctions regime by the beginning of June, when the latest six-month phase of the oil-for-food program expired. (See ACT, June 2001.) Unable to come to a decision, the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution June 1 that extended the oil-for-food program for one month in order to provide members more time to consider the available proposals. The resolution declared the council’s desire to work on proposals that would re-energize the sanctions regime and to “consider new arrangements” that would improve both the flow of civilian goods to Iraq and controls on prohibited items.

In response to the short-term rollover of the oil-for-food program, Iraq stopped all of its UN-authorized oil exports, though it continued to export oil to neighboring states illicitly. Unsurprisingly, as the council’s experts met throughout June, Iraq remained highly critical of any approach to alter the existing regime.

France submitted a draft proposal of its own to the Security Council on June 19. Operating from the same basic principles as the British draft, the French resolution differs most notably in that it would allow Jordan and Iraq to maintain an oil-export relationship whose revenues would not be controlled by the UN, permit foreign investment in upgrading Iraq’s oil industry, and allow inspection of cargo flights within Iraq’s borders by UN personnel.

The British draft consents to foreign investment in civilian sectors but not in the oil industry. According to a UN official, France is not likely to oppose adoption of the British draft resolution if the United States and the United Kingdom accept some of the modifications outlined in the French proposal.

China has also expressed concerns regarding Washington’s and London’s attempt to reach a quick decision on such a complex issue, and at the June 26 Security Council session it supported elements of the French draft resolution that allow investment in the Iraqi oil industry and limit interference in oil relationships with Iraq’s neighbors.

A UN official indicated that Beijing has taken a much more constructive approach to the British draft than the Russians, tabling amendments and participating actively in technical experts meetings. It is believed that China does not oppose a resolution to overhaul the regime in principle, and Beijing has yet to indicate that it would veto the British draft should it be brought to a vote.

Were the United States and the United Kingdom able to secure French and Chinese support for the British draft, a UN official suggested it is possible they might push for a vote in order to challenge Russia’s willingness to veto the resolution. No Security Council resolution on the Iraqi situation has been vetoed by a permanent Security Council member. However, abstention by China, France, and Russia on Resolution 1284 has been cited as one of the reasons why Iraq has felt little pressure to comply with its terms.

Cunningham said June 29 that, facing a stalemate, the council will pass another temporary extension of the oil-for-food program, giving the diplomats additional time to work out the details of a comprehensive new arrangement. When asked June 25 about the prospects of another short-term extension, Powell expressed his desire to instead “see a new resolution” and hear what others have to say about the revised British draft before “prejudging what the council might do.”