U.N., Iraq still at odds over oil, food, inspections
Security Council vote due today
December 4, 1997
Web posted at: 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT)
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Iraq and the United Nations kept on a collision course even as the Security Council prepared to vote Thursday on a still undetermined plan to increase humanitarian aid for the Iraqi people.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan briefed the council privately on the status of the U.N. oil-for-food program. Under the
year-old plan, which ends at midnight, Iraq can sell limited amounts of oil to buy food and medicine. The plan must be renewed every six months.
Annan urged renewal as well as an easing of restrictions to encourage faster delivery of food and medicine, U.N. officials said. A vote was expected later in the day.
"It is essential that we look at all aspects of the (oil-for-food program) and try to streamline it, improve it and let it run more efficiently and effectively," Annan told reporters. (255K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Both Iraq and the United Nations say the program has failed to alleviate suffering, but the 15 council members have been at odds over how to improve it.
Even if the plan is renewed, Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon said Thursday that "unless we see a distribution plan approved ... we are not going to pump any oil."
Iraq blames the United States and the United Nations for a slowdown in aid delivery. Baghdad has about $1 billion in unspent funds from oil sales that could be used to buy food even if it is not selling oil.
Last year, the council relaxed crippling sanctions imposed in 1990 after President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, touching off the Persian Gulf War. The change allows Iraq to sell $2.14 billion worth of oil every six months.
Two-thirds of the revenue goes to buy food, medicine and other supplies. The other third reimburses Kuwait for war damages and covers the cost of the U.N. weapons inspection effort.
U.N. officials concede that the program has barely made a dent in meeting the needs of 22 million Iraqis.
Iraq has accused the United States of delaying humanitarian shipments to increase pressure on Hussein.
Whether inspectors will be allowed to search Hussein's presidential palaces remains in dispute
Weapons inspectors are trying to determine whether Iraq has complied with U.N. orders to destroy long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction -- the main condition for the council to lift the sanctions.
Baghdad continues to insist that it be allowed to control what sites the inspectors can visit, a condition both the United Nations and the United States call unacceptable.
In London on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said that Iraq cannot dictate terms for inspections, including when they should end and what sites should be investigated.
"For them to say you must have a different form of inspection is really the equivalent of the inmate telling the warden what the terms of his incarceration are going to be," Cohen said in an interview. (140K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Cohen met with his British counterpart, George Robertson, as part of a U.S. effort to build world support for Washington and London's hard line against Iraq.
U.N. inspectors begin work on Thursday
Differences on the inspection issue led to a three-week halt in the monitoring of Iraqi sites. But during that period, according to a nuclear watchdog group, Iraq did not take advantage of the inspectors' absence to misuse or permanently remove any equipment under U.N. supervision.
The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed Elbaradei, said he believed it was highly improbable that any illegal activity took place, the IAEA said in a statement.
Correspondents Brent Sadler and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.