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U.S. Rejects Russia’s Iraq Proposal

January 15, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Russia today offered its own proposal to solve the Iraq impasse, echoing French calls to lift the oil embargo on Baghdad after instituting a new monitoring mechanism that could use outside experts.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh rejected the suggestion outright, saying the issue was how to return the U.N. Special Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency to Iraq _ not replace them.

The Russian proposal, distributed to Security Council members today, was the third concrete initiative to be submitted this week in a bid to restart discussions on Iraq that deadlocked following the Dec. 16-19 U.S.-British airstrikes.

According to the Russian initiative, the embargo could be lifted once the council receives a report from an assessment team on the status of Iraqi cooperation on disarmament and decides to start the monitoring system.

Moscow suggests that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, Netherlands, could monitor suspected chemical weapons sites in Iraq.

That task had been carried out by the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, which was formed after the Gulf War in 1991. According to U.N. resolutions, the embargo cannot be lifted before the inspectors determine Iraq is free of its weapons of mass destruction.

Moscow has repeatedly criticized the work of UNSCOM and its executive chairman, Richard Butler, as having provoked the December U.S.-British airstrikes on Iraq.

The airstrikes, the Russian proposal says, ``resulted in actual termination of UNSCOM activities″ in disarming Iraq. ``UNSCOM in its present format obviously cannot any longer work in Iraq.″

Moscow proposes that the Hague-based organization could also monitor Iraqi biological programs until an organization is established within the framework of the biological weapons treaty.

The International Atomic Energy Agency would continue in its role monitoring Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs.

France was the first to offer a proposal on the impasse, suggesting an immediate lifting of the embargo while instituting a monitoring mechanism designed to prevent Iraq from acquiring any new banned weapons. That would be a shift from the work of UNSCOM, which was designed to find and destroy weapons Iraq was believed to already possess.

The United States came up with its own initiative Thursday but focused purely on the humanitarian side. The plan would allow Baghdad to sell unlimited amounts of oil but would maintain the controls in place requiring that the proceeds go toward buying food and medicine for Iraqis.

Washington believes UNSCOM can and should return to Iraq to finish disarming the country, which is why it didn’t offer proposals on the disarmament angle, a U.S. official said Friday.

``We do not believe that Iraq is disarmed,″ Burleigh told reporters Thursday after presenting the plan to the council. ``And it appears that the French proposal makes that assumption.″

The proposal would streamline the bulky U.N. bureaucracy, allowing contracts to bring food and medicine into Iraq to be automatically approved.

In Washington today, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States would also withdraw the ``holds″ it has placed on some spare parts contracts to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure _ as long as they helped Iraq export more oil.

Baghdad has accused Washington of delaying approval of such contracts; Washington says it has only done so for parts that could be used to refine oil that may end up on the black market.

The U.S. proposal would allow Baghdad to borrow against a U.N. escrow fund to buy food and medicine, encourage humanitarian contributions to Iraq, and strengthen UNICEF and other U.N. programs already on the ground.

Today, Iraqi Trade Minister Medhi Saleh criticized the U.S. proposal and demanded anew that all U.N. trade sanctions on the country be lifted.

``Iraq will not accept anything short of a comprehensive lifting of the unfair embargo,″ the minister said in a statement carried on the official Iraqi News Agency.

The Security Council barred Iraq from freely exporting oil after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, depriving it of its most valuable commodity. It has allowed Baghdad to sell limited amounts _ $5.26 billion over six months _ to care for Iraqis suffering under the sanctions.

Sagging oil prices and production limits, however, have prevented Iraq from reaching that ceiling.

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