Dissent fuels Iraqi defiance over UN resolution

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By David Usborne In New York

By David Usborne In New York

19 December 1999

A new United Nations resolution intended to ease tensions with Iraq appeared last night to be having the opposite effect as Baghdad angrily rejected it and spoke ominously of "facing the consequences" of its defiance.

Drafted by Britain, the resolution holding out the promise of an end to economic sanctions against Baghdad was passed by the UN Security Council on Friday. It demands that UN inspectors be allowed back into Iraq, after a one-year absence, to search for weapons of mass destruction, but offers the suspension of sanctions within a year if Iraq co-operates.

Divisions in the Council on the best way to handle Saddam Hussein remain barely disguised, however. While there were no vetoes, the text was supported by only 11 members; four countries abstained, including three of the five permanent members - China, Russia and France.

The lack of consensus appeared to have emboldened Baghdad. "The resolution which was adopted yesterday does not answer Iraq's legitimate demand for the lifting of sanctions," Tareq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister told the Iraqi News Agency. He described the resolution as "trickery" and an "attempt to cheat international opinion".

Mr Aziz seemed also to accept that a stand-off over the resolution could lead to another burst of military aggression against his country. Iraq, he insisted, was "ready to face all the consequences" of its stand on the resolution.

It was the heavy bombardment of Iraq by the United States and Britain in December last year that led to the ejection of UN inspectors.

As many as 10,000 protesters were reported to have taken to the streets of the Iraqi capital to denounce the resolution. Condemnation was widespread in the Iraqi media. "The United States and Britain failed to get this treacherous text on Iraq adopted unanimously," Al-Qadissya the daily newspaper gloated.

UN diplomats in New York were hoping that yesterday's bad-tempered response might not be Iraq's final word. They pointed out that much in the text offers immediate benefit, notably the scrapping altogether of limits on the volume of oil Iraq can export in exchange for food and medicine. If Iraq rejects the resolution outright, it may also conclude that it cannot increase its oil exports.

The resolution, meanwhile, for the first time sets a clear timetable for the suspension of sanctions imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

A new weapons inspection body, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC), would seek to gain access to all Iraq's weapons programmes. The Council would suspend sanctions if the chairman of the Commission confirmed Iraq was co-operating.

Britain, which holds the presidency of the Council this month, hailed the resolution as a triumph of UN diplomacy. But the text exposes Britain and the United States as the two permanent Council members isolated on the Iraqi issue.

Britain also faces the prospect of having tailored a text that could, unless Iraq softens its stand, prompt further confrontation.