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U.N. split over Iraqi sanctions

Annan, Ivanov
Annan, left, is expected to hold talks about U.N. sanctions in Iraq with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov  

UNITED NATIONS -- Britain has yet to win over key members of the United Nation's Security Council for its proposed changes to sanctions against Iraq.

UK Foreign minister Robin Cook is proposing to lift the sanctions on all civilian goods entering Iraq in return for a ban on the import of military-related goods and the vetting of items with potential military use.

Trade restrictions were imposed against President Saddam Hussein's regime in the aftermath of the Gulf War 10 years ago, but Britain says the proposals are part of a broader review of Iraq policy.

"In essence we are ending sanctions on ordinary imports to Iraq but replacing them with a tightly focused set of controls on military and 'dual use' goods," a British official told the Associated Press.

"Iraq will be free to meet all of its civilian needs without impediment," he added.

CNN's James Martone says Iraq rejects a British proposal for partial lifting of U.N. sanctions, and calls for a complete halt to the embargo (May 18)

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The United States, which worked in consultation with Britain on the proposals, is calculating which potential military items could be allowed in and which to embargo, a senior U.S. official told AP.

Iraq rejected the proposal outright, an Iraqi foreign ministry source told CNN's James Martone.

Martone added: "It is no surprise. It reflects what the government has been saying on smart sanctions."

Earlier in the week, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tareq Aziz, told state television that it would cut fuel supplies to any neighbouring nation that supported sanctions.

Norway, which chairs the committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq, backed the measure, saying it would mean the "Iraqi economy can function quite freely, while making it easier to control weapons and military equipment."

Britain said it has also received a positive response from the three other council members with veto power, France, Russia and China.

Yet the Interfax news agency reported a senior Russian Foreign Ministry as saying Moscow was unimpressed by the plan.

Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze told Interfax: "It is clearly premature to speak of Russian support for this initiative.

"There are too many unclear points in the proposals and questions to which we have not got answers in the course of preliminary consultations," he said.

Moscow's support for the plan is crucial because Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council which has a right to veto resolutions.

French officials said the proposal included ideas they have raised in the past year, but they wanted to see a final text before deciding.

China's deputy U.N. Ambassador Shen Guofang said "we believe that it takes time for the consultations on the draft resolution."

He added, it might be better to just extend the current oil-for-food programme and then tackle the sanctions issue in another resolution.

Britain also said it had the support of Iraq's neighbours.

Al-Qadissiya -- an official Iraqi newspaper -- said in a front-page editorial on Thursday that the plan was a new "political game which aims at tightening the 11-year-old unjust embargo on Iraq.

"Iraq will reject any resolution that America hopes to issue under a 'British draft resolution' or 'smart sanctions'."

The draft resolution, which is expected to be tabled next week, would keep financial controls in place and still compel suppliers to Iraq to be paid from an account controlled by the U.N. that contains revenues from its oil sales.

The oil-for-food programme allows Iraq to sell oil provided the proceeds go for food, medicine, humanitarian relief and equipment for its oil industry.

The document may not include any details on what countries bordering Iraq, such as Jordan, Turkey and Syria, are expected to do.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited the region earlier this year, proposed placing monitors along their borders to control smuggling and banning contraband items.

Aziz, said on Monday Baghdad would halt oil exports to Jordan and Turkey if they co-operated with U.S. sanctions plans, Reuters reported.

"We will close the pipelines, stop the trucks and there will be no trade," he said, according to extracts of his speech broadcast on Iraqi television.

Iraq wants the complete removal of sanctions, blaming 9,000 deaths on the embargoes.

The aim is to get a vote in the 15-member Security Council on the resolution before the next six-month phase of the oil-for-food programme, which begins on June 4.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has not commented on the British plan directly, but he said he welcomed any move to ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqis.

If the Security Council approves, the British proposal would mark the first significant easing of sanctions that have been in place since the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in 1990.

• British Government
• Iraqi National Congress
• U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme
• U.S. Department of Defense

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