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diplomatic poker at UNSC

The following appeared in this week's edition of Middle East Economic
Survey :

No 49
6 December 1999

Diplomatic Poker At UNSC In New York Keeps Oil Market Guessing

Once again, diplomatic poker games over Iraq policy at the UN Security
Council in New York have been playing havoc with world oil markets. So
far, apart from byzantine maneuvers in the background, nothing concrete
has really happened during the past week 
 except for the negative probability, at MEES press time on Friday, 3
December, of the passage of US-sponsored resolution providing for a
further one-week extension of the UN

At the heart of the confusion lies an apparent distinction between two
types of resolution, sometimes combined with a conflation of the two. One
track involves a simple rollover of the present structure of the
oil-for-food program for a specified period of time, be it six months or
one week or whatever. Meanwhile, on the second track (and essentially
unrelated to the oil-for-food program), the five permanent members of the
Security Council have been holding intensive high-level negotiations on a
new Iraq policy, with a targeted resumption of arms inspection and
monitoring at its core. The main basis for discussion has been a much
modified British "omnibus" resolution that would lift the ceiling on Iraqi
oil exports as soon as a new arms commission is set up. According to the
latest available version of the proposed resolution, the new body would
have 60 days to draw up an arms program for Iraq to follow. Import and
export sanctions would be suspended after Iraq answers key questions on
its weapons of mass destruction posed by the new chief arms inspector,
whom the Secretary General would have to appoint within 30 days of the
resolution being adopted. This procedure would take about eight months,
after which the sanctions could be suspended. The suspension would then
lapse every 100 days, unless renewed by the Council. The Secretary General
would also be requested to appoint a committee of experts to determine the
future needs of the Iraqi oil industry, with the understanding that this
would lead to the opening of the upstream sector to international oil


Over the past week, the main contending resolutions for voting precedence
were a French proposal for a six-month rollover of the oil-for-food
program, and a US-sponsored one-week extension. By Thursday, the French
initiative had been abandoned, due largely to rejection by the US; and, as
indicated earlier, the US-backed one-week extension looks pretty certain
to gain UNSC approval on 3 December.


But what will come after that? MEES understands that the US strategy
behind the one-week extension is to bring the whole matter to conclusion
during the coming week with the passage of two complementary resolutions:
one for a six-month rollover of the oil-for-food program; and the other
encompassing the reimposition of arms inspection and control in Iraq and
the eventual easing of sanctions. But the central problem here will be
Russia, which supports Iraq in opposing the US and British proposals for
an omnibus resolution with its onerous, slow and cumbersome procedures for
arriving at any significant relief of sanctions. Here the key question is
of course: Can the US offer the Russians sufficient political and/or
economic rewards in other sectors to induce them to moderate their backing
for Iraq to the point where they would agree to drop the threat of veto
and opt instead for abstention or perhaps even approval in the vote on the
omnibus resolution?


A number of scenarios thus present themselves regarding the outcome of
this week

 six-month rollover of oil-for-food program or the omnibus Neither of the
two draft resolutions 
 gain UNSC approval, in which case the Iraqi oil export program would be
in even deeper limbo than it is already.


Both the two resolutions are passed by the UNSC. This would look better on
paper, and presumably Iraqi oil exports could be resumed in short order.
But, although the omnibus resolution would pose a legal obligation on
Iraq, its practical application could be rendered unworkable in the event
of Iraqi rejection and non-compliance.


The six-month rollover is passed, but the omnibus resolution falls foul of
a Russian (and possibly Chinese) veto. In that case, Iraqi oil exports
could presumably (with Iraqi approval), resume, but the US and western
strategic goal of reimposing strict arms control on Iraq would be further
than ever from realization.


Copyright ) 1999 Middle East Economic Survey 

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