Iraq: Flashpoints for Washington

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The Independent Online
IRAQ

The US was unable to persuade more than a bare majority of the UN Security Council to impose more sanctions after Iraq increased its obstruction of UN weapons inspections. Opinions differ on the gravity of Iraq's non- co-operation with the UN: the US and Britain want Iraq to keep to the letter of UN resolutions, allowing all suspect facilities to be subject to spot inspections, keeping no-fly zones completely clear. A more relaxed view, taken by many Arab states, is that the Iraqi people are being made to suffer for the misdeeds of their leaders, that Iraq no long threatens any country, and it is time be more flexible.

IRAN

French and Russian companies have concluded agreements with Iran to develop offshore oil and gas, despite US threats under the Helms-Burton legislation to penalise foreign companies that deal with Iran, Iraq and Cuba. Washington must calculate whether the principle of isolating these regimes means more than the pursuit of good relations with Europe and Russia. Europe has reinstated its policy of "constructive engagement" with Iran, sending its ambassadors back after a six-month break. The US could find itself excluded from diplomatic and economic benefits if the Iranian government starts pursuing more outward-looking policies.

MIDDLE EAST

The peace process is moribund, and the US finds itself torn between continuing support for its ally, Israel, and its desire to advance the cause of peace. It has alienated both the Arab countries, which feel Washington has not delivered on undertakings to act as honest broker (and to reward them for support during the Gulf War), and Israel, which is conspicuously rejecting US advice, for instance on the building of more Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem. When the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, comes to Washington next week, he will not have an appointment to see President Bill Clinton.

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