Iraq 'smart sanctions' plan dropped at UN

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The Independent Online

In a humiliating climbdown, Britain and America withdrew much-heralded plans in the UN Security Council to impose "smart sanctions" against the Iraqi government in the face of a Russian veto threat yesterday.

The 15-member Security Council instead agreed to extend for a further few months a UN humanitarian programme, enabling President Saddam Hussein to sell oil in return for food and medicine for his sanctions-hit population.

Russia had opposed the Anglo-American plan almost from the outset in May, arguing that it did not address the fundamental issue of lifting the 11-year-old sanctions. They can only be eased once Iraq allows the return of UN weapons inspectors, who have been barred from the country since December 1998.

Britain and America explained they wanted to adjust the sanctions to prevent President Saddam from exploiting loopholes to help him to rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, while freeing the flow of goods meant for ordinary Iraqis.

But Iraq, and its ally Russia, protested that the draft proposals would make the sanctions regime harsher.

Denis Halliday, a former UN humanitarian co-ordinator who resigned in 1998 to protest at the effect of sanctions on the local population, said yesterday the aim of the joint plan had been an attempt to shift public blame for the Iraqi people's plight on to Iraq.

"It was totally dishonest. They wanted to pass the blame on to Baghdad," he said.

"They have to bite the bullet, they should look at the supply end of the arms trade and lift the economic embargo. To fool around with this oil-for-food programme and UN bureaucracy is just unworkable."

He said he was counting on London to rethink policy towards Iraq as nothing could be expected from Washington, which continues to bank on containing Iraq and backing the overthrow of President Saddam. Mr Halliday said: "If they want to change the government in Baghdad, that's a job for the Iraqis."

Britain let it be known just before a midnight deadline yesterday that the draft resolution before the Security Council would be indefinitely postponed.

The deadlock is unlikely to be broken because of splits among the five veto-wielding powers on the Security Council.

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