Russia Blocks Reform of Iraq Sanctions Regime

Alex Wagner

In a major setback for the Bush administration, a Russian veto threat in late June forced the UN Security Council to set aside a sweeping reform of the Iraq sanctions regime. Instead, on July 3, the council unanimously approved a five-month extension of the oil-for-food program, which allows Baghdad to sell, under UN supervision, unlimited amounts of oil to purchase humanitarian and infrastructure supplies.

Iraq resumed its participation in the program July 10 after terminating its involvement following a June Security Council decision to work to overhaul the sanctions regime.

The Bush team had hoped to use the program’s July 3 expiration as an opportunity to introduce a new sanctions policy that would alleviate international concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Iraq while increasing the effectiveness of efforts to prevent Baghdad from reacquiring the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Since early June, the administration had worked to convince both the Security Council and Iraq’s neighbors to support a British draft resolution that would have lifted international sanctions on most trade with Iraq while strengthening controls on items that could be used for weapons development. (See ACT, June 2001 and July/August 2001.)

In the weeks preceding the July deadline, one of the most contentious issues among the permanent members of the Security Council involved the composition of a U.S.-proposed list of “dual-use” items, whose export to Iraq would have required UN authorization. On June 29, the U.S. representative to the UN, James Cunningham, announced that China and France had agreed to the U.S. list. But Russia could not be persuaded to support any elements of the British draft resolution.

Addressing the Security Council on July 3, Cunningham criticized Russia, saying that the council should have “done better” and that “we all know why that was not possible.”

Revitalizing the international sanctions against Iraq had been one of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy priorities. Explaining why the United States agreed to the five-month extension instead of substantial reform, Cunningham said that, if the resolution had been vetoed, it would have effectively prevented the issue from being raised again. “A veto would bring our work to a halt and thus would be a victory for Iraq,” he said.

The British ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, implied that Russia was allowing its financial relationship with Iraq to interfere with overhauling the sanctions regime. Addressing the council June 26, Greenstock argued, “None of us, on this issue in particular, can allow national economic self-interest to hold up positive measures for the Iraqi people.”

At a July 11 joint press conference with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, Secretary of State Colin Powell vowed to remain vigilant in pursuit of sanctions reform. Washington will continue over the next five months to “work with the frontline states” and with Russia to find a way to accommodate both Moscow’s interests and those of the Iraqi people, Powell said.