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Q&A: Iraq sanctions review

sick child
Iraq says sanctions have caused suffering to civilians  

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.N. Security Council members are to vote on a U.S.-Russian compromise that pledges to revise sanctions against Iraq within six months, and extends the existing U.N. oil-for-food programme until then. CNN's Jane Arraf and Ronni Berke explain the background.

Q. What sanctions are currently in place against Iraq?

A. Since August, 1990, when it invaded Kuwait, there have been blanket economic sanctions against Iraq, except for food and medical supplies.

In 1996, Iraq agreed to implement the U.N.-proposed "oil-for-food" programme, which allows it use its oil revenues to purchase humanitarian goods.

Although Iraq can now sell as much oil as it wants, the proceeds are put into a United Nations escrow account. Baghdad can purchase goods with the escrow money, provided those goods are approved by the U.N. sanctions committee.

On-the-scene: Why Iraq rejects 'smart' sanctions 

These are the most sweeping, longest-lasting sanctions ever imposed by the U.N.

Resolution 687, adopted in April 1991 after the end of the Gulf War, sets out what Iraq needs to do to have sanctions lifted.

There are a range of requirements but the main one is aimed at ensuring that all of Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs are completely destroyed.

Q. What changes to sanctions do the United States and Britain want to see?

A. The U.S. and Britain would like to revise the sanctions, so that the U.N. sanctions committee no longer has to approve all the humanitarian goods going into Iraq -- they simply reject any items on a specific list of weapons-related products.

Right now, more than $4 billion worth of supplies are blocked by the sanctions committee.

Iraq has criticised the committee, and in particular, the United States, for crippling its economy by stalling delivery of humanitarian goods.

By giving Baghdad more control over imports, the U.S. and Britain hope other countries will go along with their view that the Iraqi government is primarily responsible for the suffering of its people.

In addition, Washington and London would like to persuade Iraq's neighbours to clamp down on Iraqi oil smuggling by providing them financial incentives.

Q. Are the changes likely to receive support?

A. There has been some support among other council members for the revised sanctions. But Russia, China and France, who have veto power, have not endorsed them.

One problem is a difference of opinion on what should be on the "goods review list" -- those items to be banned from entering Iraq. For example, some computers could be used for military purposes, but others for education. China, Russia and France have complained that the U.S. list is too broad.

Q. What is Russia's view?

A. Russia completely rejected the U.S.-British proposed revised sanctions last June. But on Tuesday, Russia and the United States reached a modest compromise that would extend the oil-for-food programme for six months past its Friday deadline, and implement the "goods review list" by June 1, 2002.

In the next six months, the Security Council will have to work out agreement on the composition of the list.

Russia also got the U.S. to commit to a "comprehensive settlement" of the sanctions issue by clarifying what it sees as ambiguities in previous resolutions.

The Russians, as well as Iraq, would like the Security Council to spell out more clearly what Iraq needs to do to suspend or lift sanctions. The Security Council is scheduled to vote on the oil-for-food extension sometime on Thursday.

Q. Are sanctions likely to remain in the long term?

A. Yes, because the U.S. administration insists that Iraq remains a threat by trying to build weapons of mass destruction. But if Iraq eventually readmits U.N. weapons inspectors, Russia, France and China may push for the suspension or lifting of economic sanctions.


• The U.N. Iraq Programme
• Iraq's permanent mission to the U.N.

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