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Hans von Sponek goes public

The following appears in today's New York Times (see
The New York Times
September 20, 1999

U.N. Official in Iraq Calls for Lifting of Sanctions

AGHDAD, Iraq -- Weighing in on renewed discussions among Western powers on
Iraq, the senior United Nations official here called on Sunday for an
immediate and unconditional lifting of many sanctions that would open the
way to bigger flows of food, medicine and most other Iraqi imports. 

The official, Hans von Sponek, said a dispute over plans to revive
international weapons inspections in Iraq now posed increasing risks to the
social fabric in a country that has already borne more than nine years of
United Nations sanctions. 

"Don't play the battle on the backs of the civilian population by letting
them wait until the more complex issues are resolved," Sponek, a German who
is the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in an
interview here. 

Sponek and his predecessor, Denis Halliday, have long tried to turn
international attention toward the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, even as the
United States and Britain have focused on the intransigence of the Iraqi
Government, and blamed that Government for the travails of its citizens. 

But Sunday, on the eve of expected talks about Iraq at the United Nations,
Sponek spoke in unusually impassioned terms about what he called the dangers
of "using the human shield" in hopes of coaxing Iraqi concessions on arms

"Please remove the humanitarian discussions from the rest in order to really
end a silent human tragedy," Sponek said. 

The remarks seemed intended at least in part as a reply to a State
Department report issued last week that held the Iraqi leader, Saddam
Hussein, wholly accountable for the suffering of his people. 

The talks at the United Nations, among the five permanent members of the
Security Council, are intended to seek agreement on a plan that would ease
sanctions on Iraq in exchange for Baghdad's submission to a new system of
weapons inspections to replace one that collapsed late last year. 

The collapse was caused by bitter disputes between Iraq and the United
Nations over access to suspected weapons sites, and it was followed last
December by four days of heavy punitive air strikes by the United States and
Britain. Air strikes that the Iraqi Government says have killed nearly 200
people have continued sporadically in the nearly 10 months since. 

In that time, members of the Security Council have been unable to agree even
among themselves over how any new system should function and on what terms
it should be introduced. And throughout, the Baghdad Government has turned a
deaf ear to all proposals, insisting instead that the time has come to lift
all of the United Nations sanctions, which have been in force since the
Persian Gulf war of 1991. 

The stalemate has left a United Nations special monitoring commission known
as Unscom unable to carry out its work. Reviled by the Iraqi Government for
its intrusive methods, the commission is now paying the price -- in Baghdad,
its headquarters within a United Nations compound remain padlocked and

France, Russia and China, among the five permanent Security Council members,
have been sympathetic to Iraq's contention that its Government has
essentially carried out its obligations to the weapons inspectors. Those
Governments now appear to support a plan that would allow an immediate end
to the sanctions in return for Iraq's agreement to a new and less intrusive
system of weapons inspection. 

But the United States and Britain, which believe that Iraq may still be
concealing an illicit weapons program, have argued for tougher terms.
Together with the Netherlands, Britain has called for a plan that would
allow only a moderate easing of the sanctions -- and only after a test
period of several months that would be intended to gauge Iraq's cooperation
with a new inspection regime. 

The United States is seen as likely to support such an approach, but so far
it is still opposed by the other three Council members. Senior officials
from the five countries, who met in London last week, have reported progress
toward a deal, but they also have cautioned that an agreement might not be

Sponek, the United Nations representative here, has responsibility only for
humanitarian issues, and not the arms inspections. But even among those who
disagree about weapons inspection, he noted, there is a consensus that
ordinary Iraqis have suffered under the embargo; all, he argued, should move
now to halt what he called their "continuing deprivation." 

Pointing to increases in crime, including prostitution, and the
deteriorating quality of education, Sponek said he believed that Iraq should
be given broad latitude to import any goods that did not also have military
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