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Official UN view on Oil-for-Food increase and current crisis


Press Release SG/SM/6451 2 February 1998 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I've just
briefed the Council on my report on the oil-for-food scheme. Obviously,
the report is going to generate quite a lot of discussion, not only
because of its importance, but also the timing and the projected expansion
of the programme. I was able to explain to the members of the Council why
we have recommended such an expansion. I also pleaded with them that there
should be no linkage between the discussion of humanitarian issues and the
crisis that we are trying to contain, caused by Iraq's refusal to
implement Security Council resolutions. And I am confident that the
Council will review this report on its merits, and that the Council's
concern will be whether it is adequate and whether it can be implemented
effectively, and that it will not be influenced by what is happening

You will also notice in the report that, even though we are more than
doubling the programme, we have maintained the breakdown in the
humanitarian area. Basically, what we are trying to do is to improve the
calorie intake for the Iraqi population from about 2,000 to 2,450
kilocalories per person per day. We are increasing the amount of medicine
we are sending in, and we are also trying to work with them to improve
their agricultural output, particularly in the area of poultry and
production of eggs, to give them better food content.

In addition to that, we are improving their schools for young people. You
will notice in the report that there's considerable emphasis on children
at risk.

We have also proposed a one-time expenditure to refurbish the
infrastructure, which is in a terrible state of disrepair. We believe that
if we do not repair these infrastructural facilities, the impact will be
to undermine all the good we are trying to do by bringing in additional
supplies. If they don't have clean water to drink, it will lead to
diseases, and more medicine will be required. If you don't have
electricity for refrigeration, for hospital operations and other things,
you undermine the effectiveness of these hospitals. So, there are
proposals for improving the water system, sanitation, electricity and
these kinds of infrastructures. But those will be a one-time payment. In
other words, if after these first six months we were to come up with
another six-month [inaudible], it could be reduced by the expenditures
currently proposed for the one-time expenditure on infrastructure.

The other issue I think I should share with you is that we did not get the
kind of cooperation we had expected from the Iraqi authorities in the
preparation of the plans. I have had the chance to talk to them at the
highest levels and stressed the need for them to cooperate with us. But
now that the report is out and is before the Council, I am going to engage
them immediately to get their reactions to the report.. We did get lots of
informal inputs and have had informal contacts, but no formal reaction
from the authorities.

The other question that will be raised is, would Iraq be in a position to
export that quantity of oil? The proposal calls for $5.2 billion and
currently it is exporting $2 billion. That we are also going to take up
with the Iraqi authorities, who, in the past, have indicated they have far
greater capacity than they are allowed to export. Other experts tend to
agree with that, but, of course, we won't know until we sit with them. So,
we are working on the assumption that they have the capacity to export,
and we will find out when we sit with them.

Finally, in my discussions with the Council, I did stress my own grave
concern, which I know most members of the Council also share, about the
increasing tension caused by Iraq's refusal to comply with resolution 687
(1991). I indicated that I felt the Iraqi leadership must understand that
if sanctions were to be ended, and if it wants sanctions to be ended and
to see light at the end of the tunnel, Iraq must comply fully. It is my
sincere hope that diplomatic efforts to this end will succeed; failure
risks another round of devastating military action, which may have
unpredictable consequences.

The Charter requires both Governments and the Secretary-General to exhaust
all peaceful means before undertaking any military action. I have
indicated to the Council that I stand ready to offer my good offices for
whatever purposes the Council may deem helpful.

I will now take your questions. 

QUESTION: Did you, either directly or by body language, get a sense of how
your proposal is accepted by the delegates you talked with? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think my sense was that, generally, it was
welcomed and there was support and understanding of the need to improve
the basket and improve the situation of the Iraqi population. No one in
the Council wants to hurt innocent civilians, and so there is support for
it. There may be some disagreements when they get into the details of it,
but as of this morning, I walked away confident that there was broad
support for the proposals.

QUESTION: You just said that you told the Council that you offered your
good offices.  Are you considering going to Iraq, for example,
particularly since you will be in the region rather shortly? And if not,
why not?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me say that lots of efforts are being made in
the search for diplomatic efforts. During my trip in Europe last week, I
had very important discussions with leaders in France at the highest
levels; with the Foreign Minister in London; and also with the Turkish
Foreign Minister in Davos, who also had an interesting approach. He had
hoped to convince all the neighbours -- Iran, Jordan, Syria -- to go
together to try to plead with Iraq to back down and work with the United
Nations in order to avoid another military escalation in their region. I
did encourage him to do it. We are encouraging all these efforts..

My own involvement, if it becomes necessary in the future, will be
determined by what developments or successes come out of these current
efforts and what we collectively think we should further do. I am in touch
with those who are absent in voice and I am also in touch with the
Council, and in the next few days, [inaudible] make a judgement.

QUESTION: Regarding this current crisis, have you had contact with Iraqi
officials? Have you spoken to them about their intransigence about the
United Nations inspectors? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have been in contact with the Iraqi authorities
quite often on these issues, not just with Tariq Aziz. I also had a chance
to talk with Mr. Yassin Ramadan, the Deputy Prime Minister, when we met in
Tehran, and I am constantly in touch also with the Ambassador here. I
intend to talk to him again this afternoon.

QUESTION: This would be about, not oil for food, but about --

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have talked to them on the broader issues, on the
other issues as well.

QUESTION: The bombing seems almost imminent; that it will happen in a day
or so. Do you think the danger of Mr. Saddam's refusal of the United
Nations people to investigate justifies the bombing?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: You know, we are dealing with a Chapter VII
resolution, and the Council and the Member States have been quite
determined to see disarmament proceed. This is a decision for the Member
States and the Council, of course, but I think, from the point of view of
the Council, and maybe of the international community, compliance with
this Chapter VII resolution is something that we would all seek.

I think no one in the Council is pushing for the use of force in the first
instance. All those who are talking about it are looking at it as a last
resort. We hope that President Saddam Hussain, for the sake of the Iraqi
people, who have suffered so much, will listen to the messages that are
being taken to him by these senior envoys from Russia, from France, from
people in the region, leaders in the region and elsewhere, and really
avoid taking his people through another confrontation. They don't need it;
the region doesn't need it; and the world certainly can do without it. And
so, hopefully, the leadership will have the courage, the wisdom and the
concern for its own people to take us back from the brink.

QUESTION: There's sort of an ongoing debate over whether the United
States, if it elected to launch a military attack, would have
authorization without further action by the Council. I've been looking
back at the history of it, and one of your predecessors in 1993 was either
forced or somehow voluntarily opined that there was pre-existing
authorization for that specific time. Could we ask you to express your
opinion, whether there would have to be further action or whether

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think the international community has acted in
unison on Iraq in the past, and I think everyone would want to maintain
that unity. There have been statements that the United States does not
require a Council decision to undertake air strikes against Iraq. Despite
that, there are intensive consultations between Council members both here
and in capitals. And so consultations are going on, and I think everyone
would agree that it would be preferable to get Council authorization
before one engages in a military action. And as I said, consultations are
going on, and I would not want to prejudge the outcome. 

QUESTION: If there is to be military action, would you evacuate all United
Nations personnel, would they be notified before?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Obviously, we would not want to place our staff at
risk.  We have about 475 international personnel in Iraq who are doing
courageous and credible work, and I would hope that they would be able to
continue their humanitarian work, as well as the inspections, at the end
of this crisis. But your point is valid; I mean, the question has arisen.
If we believe they are going to be in danger, we would not keep them in
harm's way.

QUESTION: Aren't you sending mixed signals here in calling for
rehabilitating or propping up the infrastructure, the power grid and such,
which had been weakened by sanctions, and at the same time saying that
Iraq must comply in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel when
sanctions will be lifted? I think a lot of people may read it this way.

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I hope they do not. As I indicated, we are dealing
with two issues: the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people and the
pressure the international community is putting on the Iraqi Government to
comply with Security Council resolution 687 (1991) and to work with the
United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). We have determined that we
should try to refurbish these infrastructures if our objective is really
to ensure that the Iraqis have a certain minimum standard of health. And
if we do not do it, as I have indicated, there are very serious
implications and repercussions. We cannot also assume that Iraq is going
to be bombed. We have been there before, and Iraq has turned back from the
precipice. It may change its mind, and we may not need to go forward. So
in the meantime, I think we should go ahead with our plans, deal with the
humanitarian issues to try to help the Iraqi population, and, as I said
earlier, I hope President Saddam Hussain and the Iraqi leadership will
share the concern I am displaying today for the Iraqi population and have
the wisdom to take the right decisions. 

QUESTION: From your comments just now, it sounds as though the United
States does not have Security Council authorization to act militarily in
the region. I am wondering, without that authorization, is the United
States justified in starting this kind of action to achieve Security
Council compliance? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have not said that. I think I gave the indication
that although the statement has been made that the United States does not
need specific Council authorization to go, we should look at the facts.
The United States is talking to Council members, both here and in
capitals, on this particular issue. I don't think the United States itself
has taken the position that it doesn't matter what the Council thinks and
we are going ahead, because there are very serious consultations going on.
And I have indicated that everybody, including the United States, I am
sure, would agree that it would be preferable to hold everyone together.

You are not quite satisfied, but anyway, we will talk later. 

QUESTION: Can you just make it clear to us -- does the Security Council
have authorization to act now in case Iraq still shows this unwillingness
to cooperate, or not? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: The Security Council is the master of its own
decisions, and it could decide to do what it thinks is appropriate. And if
they want to take a different direction, they can decide that too. And so
the Security Council can either decide to act on a certain resolution, if
it chose to interpret it that way, or take additional specific decisions.

QUESTION: What justification have the Iraqis given you for not complying
fully in the implementation of the oil-for-food programme? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: They haven't given us any specific explanations,
but I think that when a country is going through this sort of crisis, when
you want to deal with sensitive issues, which takes courage and commits
the officials concerned, you often do not find them when you need them.
And incidentally, that also happens in this Building.  On sensitive
issues, sometimes people vanish. And I have a feeling we saw a bit of that
in Iraq, but now that the proposal has been put forward and the Council is
seized of it, I think they will react to the proposal and we will be able
to engage them seriously.

QUESTION: A highly hypothetical question: if a United Nations Member
country attacks another United Nations Member country without the approval
of the Security Council, would that country be subject to sanctions?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: If it is an attack like the one Iraq undertook in
Kuwait, you saw what the international community did. But if my
understanding of your question is right, you are working on the assumption
that the United States does not have the authority to hit Iraq alone, and
that a fresh Council resolution will be required. I think I have answered
that by telling you about the sort of discussions that are going on, and I
refuse to be drawn further.

QUESTION: Still, if there is an attack without Security Council approval,
how would the United Nations react?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think first that it is an issue the Security
Council is very much engaged in. They are in close touch with the United
States, they are seized of the problem, and if at any stage they have
problems with what is happening on the ground with any development, we
will hear from them.

QUESTION: What about your visit to the Middle East? Are you still going to
go ahead with it, or do you want to change the situation? Are there any
changes in your plans?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: At this stage, it still stands. 

QUESTION: I was wondering, considering some of the comments made by Mr. 
[Richard] Butler [UNSCOM Rxecutive Chairman] last week, how seriously do
you view the potential threat that Iraq poses in terms of biological or
chemical weapon threats to its neighbours? Is there in fact a clear and
present threat right now?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think Mr. Butler clarified what he meant to say,
and also we have a group of technical experts in Iraq now making certain
assessments. And I think I prefer to wait for their report to comment on
the capacity of Iraq.

QUESTION: Since President Saddam Hussain has all the strength, why don't
you pick up the phone and talk to him directly and bring up the whole
picture to the Council?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I tried once, but it is not easy to get him at the
other end of the line. But maybe I should take your advice and try again.

QUESTION: There have been reports today that Saddam Hussain -- this is
coming supposedly through the Russians -- has offered to make eight
presidential sites available for inspection, with the inspectors being
accompanied by ambassadors from various countries. This comes at the same
time that your proposal has gone before the Security Council. Some might
say that this may be taking shape as a compromise -- [between] what is
happening here on the humanitarian end [and] his attempt on the other.
Would you see this as a move towards compromise on his part?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, I think he has to allow free and unfettered
access to these sites. And if he does, then he will be in full compliance.

I don't think the objective is to let the President decide which palaces
the inspectors and the diplomats can go to. You talk of eight palaces. We
hear reports of as many as 60 palaces. Why those eight and not the others?
So, the problem is really still there. 

I hope that the discussions that are going on will clarify this. But, as I
said -- this question was put to me also in Europe, if this oil-for-food
scheme would be seen as a carrot to get the Iraqis to agree. We do not see
it as a carrot. We have always maintained that we should try to assist the
Iraqi population. The Council introduced the oil-for-food scheme right
from the beginning, six or seven years ago, and we could have implemented
it if we had had the agreement of the Iraqi Government. And most Council
members recognize that sanctions are a blunt instrument, and you have to
take measures to protect vulnerable populations.

QUESTION: Although there are a lot of discussions going on, and one hopes
for a compromise, is there any kind of timeframe of how long Iraq will be
allowed to keep non-cooperating before some action will be taken? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think in these sorts of situations it is always
very awkward to come up with a very tight and rigid timeframe. Lots of
things are happening, lots of irons are in the fire. And there can be very
rapid developments one way or the other. But I am not in a position to
talk of timeframes. Besides ... I think that's enough.

QUESTION: Aren't you concerned about the counter-productive use of force?
Let's say there is a military strike and the United Nations is thrown out
of the country, and then the point of the United Nations being there,
which is to inspect the weapons programmes, goes right out the window.

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have no disagreement with that. But let me say
that quite a few people are concerned. This is why we want to maintain the
inspectors. And even those who are recommending military action are still
hoping that, after the action, inspection can continue. That happened in
the past. Would it happen this time? I don't know. But our main objective,
the focus, is the disarmament of Iraq, and we should stay on the ball. So,
in that respect, I see where you're coming from, and almost everyone
agrees with you on that -- that the objective is to disarm Iraq. And, in
fact, on that objective, the Council members are unanimous. And the
[inaudible] attempts to find a solution [are] precisely to make it
possible for us to continue sticking to our objective.

QUESTION: In the Congo -- the status of the Commission of Inquiry? 

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Yes, the Commission of Inquiry is back in, and I
hope that they will be able to continue with their work. They are hoping
to move ahead.  President Kabila saw them. In fact, he had hoped to get
hold of me this morning and then I had to go in to the Council. But we
expect them to be able to move ahead with their work. In my last letter to
President Kabila, I indicated that they may have to go until May or
beyond. We didn't accept the February deadline in his exchanges with
Ambassador Richardson [of the United States]. We had an understanding as
to the mandate and the role of the mission and of the period it would take
for them to complete their work. And, although we are grateful to
Ambassador Richardson for trying to facilitate and de-block the impasse,
his involvement was not intended to change the basic premise of the
objective of the mission and the time we had assessed it would take us to
do our work.  And so they are there, and they are going to continue and do
their work until they complete it.

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