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The State Department's slurs against Von Sponeck, and a powerful defense

Today's Washington Post carried a letter strongly defending Hans Von
Sponeck, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.  This letter was a
response to Assistant Secretary of State's James Rubin's criticisms, which
are finally on record.  Both the defense and Rubin's earlier comments are

Count Von Sponeck, by the way, knows full well the penalties for challenging
brutal authority: his father was among those German officers who tried to
kill Hitler during World War II.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

Monday, November 8, 1999; Page A20 

State Department spokesman James Rubin impugned the integrity and
professionalism of a dedicated civil servant when he charged that Hans von
Sponeck, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, exceeded his authority by
criticizing the Security Council's sanctions policy and by investigating
civilian casualties from U.S.-British bombing raids in Iraq's "no-fly" zones
[news story, Nov. 3]. 

During my career in the U.S. Foreign Service, I served with Count von
Sponeck. He was U.N. Development Program resident representative to Pakistan
during the administrations of two corrupt prime ministers, and he regularly
challenged both about their failure to deliver basic resources to social
development. This is not common practice for the senior U.N. diplomat in a
major capital. Count von Sponeck also has been blunt and critical with his
counterparts in the Iraqi government, including the highest levels of the
Iraqi leadership. 

When Mr. Rubin says, "Mr. von Sponeck has undermined the role of the
humanitarian coordinator in Iraq," he means that the count has not been an
advocate for Pentagon policies. When Mr. Rubin says, "We do not have
confidence in his leadership of this effort," he means that Count von
Sponeck is not an advocate of allied air-war efforts in Iraq. 

At a time when much of the world worries that Western policies toward Iraq
punish the poor and the defenseless for the horrors of their leaders, we
should be pleased to have such a capable and effective advocate for the

The writer is an adviser to Egypt's Ministry of Justice. 

(Note: State Department briefings are available by drilling-through the
calendar at the following address:
<>.   The following
segment is snipped from
QUESTION: Earlier this week you leveled some criticism against the UN
humanitarian relief official in Iraq, Mr. Von Sponeck. Could you please
restate, for the record today, what the US is unhappy about as regards his
performance, and what do you hope or expect to see happen as a result of
this public criticism? 

MR. RUBIN: The statements that I made accurately reflected our views as to
his shortcomings in his current post, and they basically fall into three

First of all, on the direct question of, is he managing and leading the
humanitarian Oil-for-Food Program effectively, we think that he has not been
as forceful and as direct as he should be, in confronting the Iraqi
Government, with the fact that enormous quantities of food and medicine
remain in warehouses, undistributed. And then the Iraqi Government proceeds
to complain that there are effects on its own population, when it is not
distributing the food and medicine that has been purchased. We think Mr. Von
Sponeck has not been direct and forceful in pushing the Iraqi Government to
release that food and medicine, distribute it so that its own citizens can
get the food and medicine it needs. 

Secondly, the Security Council has imposed a sanctions regime on Iraq,
imposed nine years ago. The Security Council has repeatedly - that is, all
the countries of the world, acting through the Security Council -- has
repeatedly reaffirmed that sanctions policy, with the ban on imports and
exports that it entails. So the world has spoken; the Security Council has
spoken; and we do not believe it is appropriate for a UN official, whatever
private views he's entitled to have, to challenge the position the United
Nations Security Council has taken about the wisdom of the sanctions regime.
That decision has been made, and to question it exceeds his competence and

Thirdly, he has issued reports about subjects he knows even less about,
which is the effect of civilian casualties throughout Iraq in the no-fly
zones. He has relied almost exclusively on Iraqi reports for what damage was
done, even though we have a nine-year history of Iraq using elaborate
propaganda and misrepresentation in such cases. And one shouldn't rely on an
Iraqi account of what happens in any circumstance related to the United
States or the United Nations relations with Iraq. 

So those are our views. Our views are obviously strongly held. We do not
believe that this gentleman deserves to be leading this important effort. We
will continue to make our views known to Secretary General Annan, and we
will continue to make our views known to him that there are a number of
areas where he is very poorly advised on the situation in Iraq, with respect
to other aspects. 

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