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Iraq minister defends hold on oil exports under U.N. deal

December 7, 1997

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Iraq’s trade minister on Saturday defended his government’s decision to halt oil exports, saying the U.N. oil-for-food deal had done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi cessation of oil exports appears to be an attempt to draw attention to its grievances and to step up pressure on the United Nations to address them.

Mohammed Mehdi Saleh said that Iraq had received only $53 million worth of food under the second phase of the deal which began in June.

``This shows how much they care about the Iraqi people,″ Saleh told reporters at the Arab-Afro trade fair in Sharjah.

Iraq shut down its oil pipeline to Turkey Friday. It said it would not export any more fuel until the United Nations approved a new plan for distributing food bought with oil revenues.

In Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf reiterated that Iraq would wait until the United Nations met its demands on the oil-for-food plan.

``If those demands don’t come true, we won’t start the export of the oil,″ said al-Sahhaf, who was attending the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Under the oil-for-food deal, Iraq is allowed to sell $2.14 billion worth of oil every six months to buy humanitarian goods exempted from the sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The Security Council agreed Thursday to extend the program for another six months.

But Iraq has complained repeatedly that its purchase of goods under the program are blocked by the United States in the U.N. sanctions committee that approves all such contracts. It has also complained that the delivery of goods is way behind schedule and has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of children.

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