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Washington Post: UN Secretary General Confronts U.S. on Iraq

>From this morning's Washington Post
Annan Confronts U.S. on Iraq
Humanitarian Goods Are Being Blocked, U.N. Chief Charges 
By Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 25, 1999; Page A22 
UNITED NATIONS-The United States and the United Nations are lashing out at
each other for failing to do enough to relieve the suffering of ordinary
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan accused the United States of using its
muscle on a U.N. sanctions committee to put indefinite "holds" on more than
$500 million in humanitarian goods that Iraq would like to buy. 
U.S. officials said the goods that Iraq asked to import range from the
frivolous--such as 100,000 musical doorbells--to the frightening, including
glass-lined stainless steel pipes that could be used in the production of
chemical weapons. "None of these holds are for food or medicines," one
official said. 
The tensions reflect Annan's frustration with Washington's policy of seeking
to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and its refusal to ease economic
sanctions, imposed nine years ago in response to Iraq's 1990 invasion of
Kuwait. A recent survey by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found
that Iraqi children are dying at twice the rate they did before the
Last month, Annan issued a plea to President Clinton to allow greater
humanitarian relief to Iraq and to be flexible in negotiations over the
future of U.N. policy in Iraq, which is deadlocked between countries that
want to ease sanctions--particularly Russia and France--and the United
States and Britain. 
The United States "is disrupting the operation" of the U.N. oil-for-food
program, which allows Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil and spend the
proceeds on humanitarian needs, Annan said in an interview. "I think one
should be transparent and not withhold some of these items unreasonably
because it undermines our professed desire to help alleviate the suffering
of the Iraqi people." 
The United States and Britain said they have shown flexibility in allowing
Baghdad to use about $900 million of oil revenue to rebuild its oil
industry, instead of spending it on food and medicine. 
Today, however, U.S. and British delegates will open a campaign in the
Security Council to block a request by Annan to allow Iraq to spend an
additional $300 million to repair its petroleum industry infrastructure,
according to diplomats. 
The dispute centers on the 1996 oil-for-food deal that permits Baghdad to
sell $5.2 billion of oil every six months to pay for food, medicine and
other items that improve the health of Iraqis. Until recently, low world oil
prices and Iraq's aging infrastructure have prevented it from exporting that
With higher prices, the United States and Britain have agreed to allow
Baghdad to sell $7 billion of oil during the current six-month period to
make up for past shortfalls. But they will demand that Iraq spend the
additional money on food and medicine, not on its commercial infrastructure.

Baghdad's latest spending proposal, which includes the musical doorbells for
new housing, falls short of what the United Nations has said the country
should spend to meet its people's nutritional needs. Iraq has proposed to
buy $1.3 billion of food, about $234 million less than recommended by the
United Nations in February 1998. And Iraq has projected an expenditure of
$290 million on medicine, $480 million less than the United Nations
At the proposed level, Iraq would aim to provide 2,200 calories per person
daily, 263 less than the U.N. suggestion. "We want to know what's going on,"
said a diplomat who supports the U.S.-British position. "The United Nations
is conspiring with Iraq to make sanctions less effective, while limiting the
available relief." 
The dispute comes less than two weeks after the United States announced that
Kuwait had seized three Iraqi cargo ships illegally exporting dates, lentils
and jute seed and cloves used in animal feed. The United Nations has
previously complained to Baghdad that it was not purchasing sufficient
amounts of high-protein items, including lentils. 
"Despite their claim of scarce foodstuffs, they are earning hard currency
exporting foodstuffs," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said on
Oct. 15. "Iraq refuses to use the funds available to it in order to buy food
under the oil-for-food program." 
Iraq has been the greatest source of tension between the United States and
Annan. But Annan dismissed accounts, provided by one of his top aides, that
both Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser
Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger recently shouted at him for "going soft" on Saddam
Hussein, although he conceded there have been "some tense discussions." 
Annan said the differences aren't personal. "Anyone in this position could
run into difficulties in those cases where U.S. national policy diverges
from U.N. policy," he said. "And I think the U.S. national policy on Iraq
goes beyond what the [U.N. Security] Council has mandated." 
 Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company 

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