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Oil-for-Food Extended, Goods Review List Revised

Paul Kerr

On December 30, the UN Security Council voted 13-0 to expand the list of items that a UN committee can prevent Iraq from importing. The changes, which were proposed by the United States and are contained in Resolution 1454, are intended to further limit Iraq’s ability to acquire items of military significance.

Resolution 1454 adds items to the Goods Review List (GRL), which contains items with both military and civilian applications. The UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review proposed contracts with Iraq, and for additional scrutiny they send items on the GRL to a UN committee, which has the power to block exports to Iraq.

The GRL was adopted by Security Council Resolution 1409 in May 2002 as a modification to the oil-for-food program to speed the system for approving goods going to Iraq. The United Nations established the oil-for-food program in 1995 in response to widespread concerns that economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 were seriously hurting the country’s civilian population. The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to purchase food, medicine, health supplies, and other civilian goods with proceeds derived from oil sales, which are held in a UN escrow account.

Resolution 1409 streamlined the process for approving exports to Iraq to further ease sanctions’ effects on civilians, but it created the GRL to keep items with potential military uses out of the country. Iraq is now allowed to import most civilian goods, but sanctions on military items remain in effect. (See ACT, June 2002.)

The United States had been pushing to expand the GRL because it was concerned that Iraq was importing goods not on the list, such as atropine, and using them for military purposes. Atropine is a drug with legitimate medical purposes that can also be used as an antidote to nerve gas. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in a December 13 statement that Baghdad’s effort to acquire atropine gives the United States concerns “about Iraq’s development of chemical weapons.”

Washington’s initial efforts to persuade the Security Council to accept changes to the GRL met with difficulty. Resolution 1409 had extended the oil-for-food program until the end of November 2002 and mandated a review of the GRL by that time. According to a U.S. official interviewed January 7, in November the United States linked its support for the program’s renewal to a Security Council review of the GRL, with the aim of incorporating Washington’s suggested additions. Other Security Council members, however, wanted to renew the oil-for-food program for six months without reviewing the list, he said.

Security Council members eventually reached a compromise: on December 4 the council unanimously passed Resolution 1447, which extended the oil-for-food program for 180 days and said the council would “consider” adjustments to the GRL that would be adopted within 30 days. That led to the passage a few weeks later of Resolution 1454. Resolution 1447 requests that the UN secretary-general assess and report on the implementation of the GRL before the oil-for-food program expires in June.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations James Cunningham called the passage of Resolution 1454 a diplomatic victory, saying December 30 that the resolution meets U.S. goals.

According to a December 31 report from the UN Office of the Iraq Program, Resolution 1454 requires that the UN secretary-general establish import quotas within 60 days for items such as atropine, in order to prevent Iraq from stockpiling them. Requests to export quantities exceeding these quotas to Iraq must be referred to the UN committee, the report said. The text of the resolution also places imports of concentrated atropine on the GRL; atropine was previously not on the GRL.

Iraq’s state-run newspaper Al-Jumhuriya criticized the resolution January 2, arguing that it will cause “deliberate harm and damage” to Iraq, according to a January 2 Associated Press report.

Only Russia and Syria abstained from the resolution. Syria argued that it was too restrictive, given Iraq’s cooperation with UN weapons inspectors, according to a January 1 report from the official Syrian Arab News Agency. The Russian Foreign Ministry said December 31 that Moscow abstained because the resolution’s restrictions on heavy trucks were too severe and would adversely affect the distribution of goods in Iraq. Russia exports heavy trucks to Iraq, a U.S. Official said in a January 7 interview.