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Lifting Sanctions From Iraq: in Search of the Golden Mean

The end of last week was a busy time for the United Nations Security Council. The ambassadors of 15 states were discussing a new wording of the Anglo-American draft resolution lifting sanctions from Iraq. The document would simultaneously give the United States and the United Kingdom a legal mandate for ruling the country in the post-war period and, most importantly, the right to decide how to spend revenues from Iraqi oil sales.

The second wording has been called for because the first one required from the United Nations everything for nothing. In particular, the United Nations was kind of removed from the political process on-going in Iraq and control of flows of Iraqi petrodollars. Business partners of the United Nations and Iraq got no guarantees that their debts and contracts, including within the framework of the phasing out oil-for-food program, will be paid or compensated for. The winners would like to be the only holders of the keys to the Iraqi treasury. Hoping to put the resolution to vote last week, the United States made a set of minor steps to meet critics.

Thus, the second wording admits the need of "intensive" cooperation between the UN coordinator and the powers of occupation in the rehabilitation of the Iraqi national institutions. However, it remains unclear why this call is addressed, above all, to the United Nations instead of the occupation powers.

The United States has agreed also to including the UN coordinator into the international council which will select auditors for the "Development Fund", engaged in the distribution of Iraqi oil revenues. It is also mentioned in bypassing that, after the creation of an Iraqi cabinet recognised by the international community, the Fund's capitals "can be open" for the receipt of financial claims from countries to which Baghdad owes money on prewar contracts. Of course, it is up to the winners to decide open or closed.

To make a long story short, concessions made by the authors of the draft resolution look more like a cheap make-up. The official powers of the UN coordinator are intentionally vague. No time is set for a duly elected government to take over power in Iraq. Nor is the draft wording certain on what and on what terms will replace the oil-for-food program when it vanishes together with the sanctions.

These and other faults in the draft resolution have forced members of the United Nations Security Council to submit over 25 amendments in the end of last week. Russia, China and France, having the right of veto, have reached the opinion that the draft is in need of serious updating. The authors of the draft just cannot brush their opinion aside. Waging a war in defiance of the United Nations is possible, rehabilitating Iraq in the times of peace is not. Without lifting the UN sanctions imposed 13 years ago, the United States and Britain will somewhat hang in the juridical vacuum. Companies will fear to invest and wage trade in Iraq, claimants to Iraqi oil export will be found through court, and the 13 billion dollars of accumulations now managed by the United Nations will be frozen. As a result, the United States is on the crossroads.

There are two ways out here. First, put the project as it is to vote. None of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council will probably use the right of veto and the resolution will most likely be passed. Though at the minimum of 9 votes. In this case, the future will be clouded by the preservation of strained relations between the United States and the influential members of the anti-war coalition who, for understandable reasons, will not like to sacrifice their commercial interests in Iraq to the altar of Anglo-American victory.

Second, the United States will have to go to new concessions. Their main vector will be as before - a worthier role for the United Nations and clearer guarantees that Iraq's creditor countries and long-time business partners will not be left with nothing. Such a compromise is a possibility.

It looks like that the bringing of these two points of view to the golden mean surfaced way back in the end of the visit of American State Secretary Colin Powell to Moscow in the end of last week. Then, Russian negotiators made it clear that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is crucial as before: otherwise, why staging a war. Although UN inspectors surely must complete their work, it can wait. That is, the search for missiles and microbes is not so much linked to the lifting of sanctions. It may take years to find evidence of Saddam's dirty job, Iraq has to be rehabilitated now.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedorov with utmost clarity expounded this idea at a conference on the impact of the Iraq war on the Russian economy. The over-insistent linkage between the lifting of sanctions and the ending of inspections "may play a negative role when we have to do with the new authorities in Iraq," the diplomat warned. Fedorov called on the United States for a smooth transition from sanctions to a situation when all of Iraq's current debts and earlier contracts will be paid or compensated for. It looks like the truth of this idea is reaching the brightest heads in Washington.

Completing his Moscow visit, Colin Powell said on the air of Echo of Moscow radio station that the new Iraqi government will undertake full responsibility for its debts to Russia. Iraq's debts can be either put off or refinanced, he suggested.

On Sunday the G8 finance ministers, including John Snow of the United States, somewhat agreed with this opinion, saying that Iraq will hardly begin repaying debts before late 2004. Better late than never.

Vladimir Simonov, RIAN