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UK seeks to ease Iraqi sanctions

Annan, Ivanov
Annan, left, is expected to talk about U.N. sanctions in Iraq with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, right  

UNITED NATIONS -- Britain has proposed to lift U.N. sanctions on all civilian goods entering Iraq and toughen the embargo against the government, its officials said.

The British proposal was developed in consultation with the U.S. and is part of a broader review of Iraq policy by both countries, a British official told the Associated Press.

"In essence we are ending sanctions on ordinary imports to Iraq but replacing them with a tightly focused set of controls on military and 'dual use' goods," a British official said.

"Iraq will be free to meet all of its civilian needs without impediment," he added.

Full sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors certify that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed. Baghdad has barred inspectors for nearly two-and-a-half years.

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Britain said it received a positive response from the three other council members with veto power, France, Russia and China.

Yet the Interfax news agency reported a senior Russian Foreign Ministry as saying Moscow was unimpressed by the plan.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze told Interfax: "It is clearly premature to speak of Russian support for this initiative.

"There are too many unclear points in the proposals and questions to which we have not got answers in the course of preliminary consultations," he said.

Moscow's support for the plan is crucial because Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council which has a right to veto resolutions.

David Butter, from the Middle East Economic Digest, said lifting sanctions on civilian goods divided members of the U.N. Security Council.

"China and Russia have reservations about it, they think sanctions should be lifted unconditionally," he told CNN.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has not commented on the British plan directly, but he said he welcomed any move to ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqis.

If the Security Council approves, the British proposal would mark the first significant easing of sanctions that have been in place since the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Al-Qadissiya -- an official Iraqi newspaper -- reported on Thursday that Iraq would reject the proposal.

The paper said in a front-page editorial the plan was a new "political game which aims at tightening the 11-year-old unjust embargo on Iraq.

"Iraq will reject any resolution that America hopes to issue under a 'British draft resolution' or 'smart sanctions'."

The new resolution would keep financial controls in place and still compel suppliers to Iraq to be paid from an account controlled by the U.N. that contains revenues from its oil sales.

The document may not include any details on what countries bordering Iraq, such as Jordan, Turkey and Syria, are expected to do. However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited the region earlier this year, proposed placing monitors along their borders to control smuggling and banning contraband items.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tareq Aziz, said on Monday Baghdad would halt oil exports to Jordan and Turkey if they cooperated with U.S. sanctions plans, Reuters reported.

"We will close the pipelines, stop the trucks and there will be no trade," he said, according to extracts of his speech broadcast on Iraqi television.

The aim is to get a vote in the 15-member Security Council on the resolution before the next six-month phase of the oil-for-food programme, which begins on June 4.

• British Government
• Iraqi National Congress
• U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme
• U.S. Department of Defense

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