U.S. considers lifting non-military Iraq sanctions
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- In what would be a major policy change, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday that the United States was seriously considering supporting the lifting of all non-military U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
The U.N. sanctions program was designed to force Iraq to destroy its ability to develop and produce weapons of mass destruction.
Critics say the sanctions failed in their goal but caused the Iraqi people to suffer.
"I have every reason to believe we are able to keep the box as tightly closed as we have the last 10 years, without receiving the baggage that goes with it," Powell said.
Following three days of talks with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, Powell said the United States was in the process of shaping new sanctions, which would target Iraq's military exclusively and not the Iraqi people.
Powell said these ideas resonated throughout the region, where support for sanctions had greatly diminished.
The Bush administration has as much as acknowledged that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has won the propaganda war and succeeded in convincing the Arab world that the sanctions had caused the Iraqi people to suffer.
Although Powell has attempted to convince people otherwise, he has also shown a willingness to lift some of the non-military sanctions.
Powell said a lot of the details still need to be worked out and ultimately it would be up to the United Nations sanction committee to decide what might be exported to Iraq.
Powell said the Bush administration hopes to have its new policy on Iraq ready to roll out before the Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan, at the end of March.
Core plank of Bush agenda
The Bush administration has made the tightening of sanctions on Iraq a core plank of its foreign relations agenda.
But declining support in the Arab world and international opposition has led to a system which U.S. President George W. Bush compared to Swiss cheese in its effectiveness.
The United States and Great Britain, permanent U.N. Security Council members, strongly support the economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Sanctions against Iraq are supposed to remain in place until Baghdad complies with demands to dismantle its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction to the satisfaction of U.N. inspectors.
But Russia, China and France, also permanent members of the Security Council, favor an easing or an abolition of sanctions.
Several "humanitarian flights" originating from France, Russia and various Arab nations have landed in Baghdad during the past year, in breach of the sanctions.
Russia wants the sanctions lifted so it can resume lucrative oil contracts with Baghdad and have Iraq repay $8 billion it owes Moscow in Soviet-era debt.
Under the 1996 oil-for-food program, all revenue from sales of Iraqi oil is put into an escrow fund, which is then used to buy humanitarian aid and food for the Iraqi people.
Final decisions on what should be prohibited items for export to Iraq, Powell explained, will have to be made by the U.N. sanctions committee.
Eggs are currently on the list of banned items because the Iraqis might "do things" with biological weapons, said Powell.
Currently there are some 1,600 contracts being held up by the United States.
Sanction heavily criticized
The sanction program has been heavily criticized for it humanitarian impact. Irishman Denis Halliday, the coordinator of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq, resigned in protest against them in 1998.
"We are in the process of destroying an entire society," warned Halliday. "It's as simple and terrifying as that. Five thousand children are dying every month."
Others have criticized the current sanctions for failing in their declared goal.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last September, former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler said, "given the last 22 months, given today's circumstances of crumbling sanctions, given the fact that he is back in the arms business, it follows as the night follows the day for me to say what I am saying: These sanctions are not working."
Powell has described rebuilding sanctions against Iraq in a "more sensible way," as the chief reason for his Middle East-Persian Gulf trip.
The essence of the so-called smarter sanctions, explained Powell, is to target Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, not the Iraqi people. That message "resonated" within the region, according to Powell.
Tightening of questionable exports
He also stressed that modifications in the sanctions must involve tightening of questionable exports to Iraq from front-line states, neighbors like Jordan and Syria.
"If you go forward, you really have to do something about the front-line states to stop things that might not be under U.N. controls," he said.
Powell said tight controls on weapons shipments to Iraq will remain in place even as the burden of economic sanctions on the Iraqi people is eased.
The Bush administration intends to consult with Russia, China, Britain, France and again with Arab governments, said a senior Bush administration official speaking on condition of anonymity.
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