New inspectorate offers Iraq a way out of sanctions

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The Independent Online
OVERCOMING A year of division and diplomatic paralysis, the United Nations Security Council last night adopted a sweeping new resolution on Iraq that plots a direct route to the suspension of nine-year-old sanctions if Saddam Hussein co-operates with a new weapons inspection regime.

The text, drafted by Britain, which currently also holds the council presidency, was passed by 11 votes in the 15-member council. While they voiced reservations about the provisions, Russia, China and France - all permanent members with the power of veto - abstained, as did Malaysia, a non-permanent member.

"The adoption of this resolution is an exceptional achievement for the council, one which is fully in the interests of the Iraqi people and of the international community," Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, commented after the vote.

The resolution creates a new UN weapons inspection body for Iraq, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission or Unmovic. It replaces Unscom, the UN Special Commission, which has, in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency, been responsible for weeding out Saddam's weapons of mass destruction since sanctions were imposed in August 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

It also means the immediate lifting of limits on the amount of crude that Iraq can export onto the world market under the oil-for-food regime that was introduced in an attempt to offset civilian suffering in the country. Until yesterday, Iraq was permitted to sell oil worth $5.26bn (pounds 3bn) every six months.

However Iraq has already signalled in advance that it would reject the resolution, which provides for the return of the arms inspectors and continued financial controls.

If Iraq refuses to co-operate, it may even opt to keep exports beneath the $5.26bn ceiling. "Iraq categorically rejects the British proposal," the Deputy Prime Minister, Tareq Aziz, asserted in a letter to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, written before the resolution's adoption.

The Iraqi president yesterday summoned his top aides to a meeting as the Council met to consider the resolution. Policy towards Iraq has been in ruins ever since the United States and Britain launched a heavy bombardment of his country on December 16 last year. Operation Desert Fox aimed to punish Iraq for failing to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors branded as US and Israeli spies by Baghdad.

The two countries have kept up a low-level bombardment against Iraq in "no fly" zones in the north and south of the country since then. But during that time, the council has been deeply divided and there has been no supervision of Iraq's weapons activities.

The resolution lays out a timetable for the suspension of the main sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. After its first 120 days working in Iraq, Unmovic would report to the council on progress.

The deliberately vague text, which was furiously fought over, provides for suspension of the sanctions if Iraq has shown its willingness to "co-operate in all respects" with inspectors. All could depend, however, on the interpretation of that phrase, both by Unmovic and by the members of the Security Council.

Britain and the US are expected to insist on the most stringent of interpretations while friends of Iraq, including Russia and China, will take a more lenient approach.