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dance of the seven veils

The following are some notes that I typed up on the 24th Nov. and the
3rd Dec. I thought they might be of interest/use.



'dance of the seven veils'
Some recent background to the Iraqi Government's
suspension of the oil-for-food programme 
24th November 1999


    Since the beginning of the year the UN Security Council has been
trying to agree a upon a future policy towards Iraq. With almost a year
having passed since Desert Fox the sentiments expressed by one diplomat to
the French wire agency Agence France Presse (in April !) that "Nobody is
in a hurry" have been amply born out. However there does now appear to be
a sense of urgency on the part of the US and Britain to get a "consensus"
Resolution passed by the Council. Indeed, "Unless an agreement on the
resumption of inspections is reached in December, officials said, the
United States I prepared to walk away from months of negotiations about
the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq" (Washington Post, 20th
November). Why ?

    At the end of October Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) explained
that the new urgency stemmed "from the ending of the sixth oil-for-food
program on 20 November and the replacement at year-end of five
non-permanent members of the Security Council (Bahrain, Brazil, Gambia and
Slovenia) who are co-sponsors of the UK/Dutch draft resolution." (MEES,
25th October). A failure to get a Resolution passed in the next few weeks
could thus result in the US and Britain having to build a fresh consensus
among a new set of non-permanent members - some of whom, conceivably,
might not be so amenable to the US-British position.


   At the end of October Britain was upbeat regarding its chances of
success with Peter Hain telling a press conference in the United Arab
Emirates that unanimity was "nearly there" (AFP, 26th October). However,
during a meeting of permanent Council members on November 5th - the first
since September - an unnamed "diplomat" told Reuters that the whole
process was a "dance of the seven veils and this is just the first veil
being lifted" (5th November). 

    According to the Reuters report "The general outline of the proposed
["consensus"] resolution would lift any ceiling on how much oil Iraq could
sell, now at $5.26 billion every six months, as soon as a new arms
commission was set up. Import and export sanctions would be suspended
after Iraq answered some key questions on its weapons of mass destruction"
the questions to be posed by a new chief arms inspector "whom  Kofi Annan
would have to appoint within 30 days after the resolution is adopted". The
suspension "would lapse at periodic intervals unless the council renewed
it" and "Iraq's trading practices  would still be controlled by Security
Council members and a separate escrow account maintained by the United
Nations" despite the fact that "the current humanitarian program is
extremely cumbersome". "Diplomats said differences remained on precisely
what Iraq had to do to get the sanctions suspended and under what
conditions they could be reimposed". France was said to have "moved closer
to the US-British proposals since September".


    As the 20th November neared "The US and Britain expressed hope  for
quick agreement on a new Iraq policy but Russia and China cautioned that
serious problems remain[ed] and [that] no breakthrough [was] imminent"
(AP, 17th November).

    Separate to this ongoing wrangling the US proposed another six-month
extension of the oil-for-food programme in its current form. Russia had
other ideas and proposed a series of amendments. These called for the
elimination of the ceiling on oil sales, the simplification of the
procedure for the approval of humanitarian and oil spare parts contracts,
to "eliminate   the 30% allocation of Iraqi oil revenue to the UN
Compensation Fund" and the resumption of international and regional
civilian air traffic. Russia also requested the Secretary General "to make
arrangements to allow funds deposited in the [UN] escrow account to be
used for the purchase of locally produced goods and meet local costs" and
proposed an increase in the money that Iraq could spend on oil equipment
from $300 mn (per six month phase) to $600 mn (MEES, 22nd November). 


    In other words Russia proposed incorporating many of the "carrot"
measures contained in the Anglo-Dutch Resolution. There is - and never has
been - any humanitarian rationale for the ceiling on oil sales. Similarly,
the introduction of a "cash component" (ie. money for the "purchase of
locally produced goods and to meet local costs") could make a real
difference to the implementation of oil-for-food, and was recommended by
both the Humanitarian Panel and UNICEF. However, Britain will not
countenance these measures - which could have a positive impact on the
humanitarian situation - "without receiving something in return" (FCO
letter, October 1999) and neither will the US. 

    The US rejected Russia's proposed amendments insisting on maintaining
the $5.26 bn ceiling "while suggesting [that] the ceiling could be changed
if UN Secretary General Kofi Annan decides that Iraq needs to sell
additional oil to buy more humanitarian supplies" (MEES, 22nd November).
US deputy ambassador to the UN, Peter Burleigh, also "said [that] he would
request a study by the UN Secretariat, to be completed by 15 January 2000,
on whether an increase in funding for the purchase of oil spare parts by
Iraq was justified on  humanitarian grounds" (MEES, 22nd November). Russia
agreed to drop its amendments for the time-being "but not for six months"
(AP, 19th November) therefore a draft resolution [not to be confused with
the "consensus" resolution !] was tabled on the 18th November extending
the program for a two week period "to enable differences between the US
and Russia to be resolved and to canvass Russian support for the British
"omnibus" resolution" (MEES, 22 November) [The "omnibus" resolution is the
one referred to as the "consensus" resolution in the wire reports.] 


    The same edition of MEES provides an outline of the "much modified
British "omnibus"
resolution" based on "the latest available version of the proposed
resolution".The ceiling on
oil exports  would be lifted "as soon as a new arms commission is set up"
(and, presumably,
given access to the Iraq ?). The new body "would have sixty days to draw
up an arms program
for Iraq to follow. Import and export restrictions would [then] be
suspended after Iraq
answers key questions on its weapons of mass destruction posed by the new
chief arms
inspector". MEES notes that "this procedure would take about eight months,
after which
sanctions could be suspended".


"Thus even if everything went according to plan, in the best of
circumstances the opening of
Iraq's upstream [ie. foreign investment in the 'upstream' sector of Iraq's
oil industry] would
not start until the second half of next year. And that is assuming there
are no problems along
the way, which on the basis of  of past experience is a very big
assumption" (MEES, 22nd November).

the remaining issues

According to MEES (22nd November), what remains to be "ironed out" is : 

7 "whether suspension should be renewed every 100 days, as the US and UK
want, or every 200 days, as France and Russia are demanding"
7 "how to monitor Iraq's imports to make sure that weapons-related
materials do not enter the country"
7 "the length of time between the adoption of a resolution and the
suspension of sanctions and the actual criteria for suspending them". The
US and UK are arguing "that Iraq should have to allow inspectors back and
co-operate with them "for a substantial period of time" "

    The resolution extending oil-for-food for two weeks (1210) was passed
on Friday 19th November. The following day Iraq rejected the two-week
extension and by the Monday (the 22nd) Iraq had suspended its oil exports
through the program.  
    AP reported that "Iraq's rejection of the extension" was "not expected
to have a major impact on the humanitarian program because UN officials
say supplies are coming in normally" (22nd November). By contrast "oil
prices surged to their highest level since the end of the Persian Gulf
War" closing above $27 a barrel on the Monday (Washington Post, 23rd

    With breath-taking cynicism Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
explained that "Iraq [had] shown its true colours" by "turning down the
possibility of having more food and medicines for [Iraq's] people by
selling more oil" - exactly what the US did when it rejected Russia's
amendment ! (Reuters, 22nd November). 

    Readers will no doubt recall an edition of 60 Minutes on which Ms
Albright revealed her "true colours".


    Exactly why the Iraqi Government suspended oil sales is a matter of
speculation. Iraq's Ambassador to the UN Saeed Hasan told Reuters :

 "What can you export in two weeks? What kind of a distribution plan can
you submit? What kind of commodities can you bring to the country in two
weeks? It's ridiculous to extend it for two weeks this program with all of
its complexities".  

The same report noted that "Security Council diplomats said they had been
informed that Baghdad would accept a "straightforward rollover" of the
plan on terms the United States had proposed in the Security Council last
week" (Reuters, 23rd November).

 Meanwhile the New York Times reported that "some diplomats say the Iraqis
may have been stunned by reports that  the Russians might be willing to
drop their strong advocacy for Iraq  in return for American restraint in
criticising Moscow's war in Chechnya. The Russians deny that such an offer
was made." (23rd November). 


The same piece noted "the danger  that by shutting down oil flows and
continuing to oppose a new disarmament plan, Iraq might effectively free
itself of foreign supervision". This the piece claimed "would raise the
question of military action to enforce Security Council Resolutions".

    On Wednesday (the 24th) the Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammad Rashid
told AFP that Iraq's suspension of its oil exports would last "two weeks
starting from two days ago". 

UPDATE : 3rd December 1999

    On the 27th, Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammed Rasheed confirmed the
earlier reports that Iraq would accept a six-month extension of
oil-for-food (Reuters, 27th November).

'NOVEMBER 2000' 

    Talks in the Security Council broke off on the 26th November. "We are
finishing the chess game and beginning the poker game" a "diplomat
involved in the talks" told the Washington Post (27th November 1999). 

    The Post noted that "Effectively, the US-backed proposal [ie. the
"omnibus" or "consensus" proposal - G.] would put off the politically
difficult decision of suspending the sanctions on Iraq until after the
presidential election in November 2000". The New York Times (27th
November) noted that "Western nations have set up a timetable that could
prolong the entire process of restoring inspections and dropping the
sanctions by months, even if everything goes well". 

   The US "will settle for assurances that the "key" disarmament tasks
have been resolved" 
before easing sanctions "instead of insisting on complete disarmament"
diplomats told the
Post whilst an unnamed "diplomat involved in the negotiations" was quoted
as saying that "Russia, France and China say the test period is currently
too long".


    The following Monday (the 29th) the Financial Times reported that the
Security Council was "close" to agreement on a new sanctions/inspections
resolution. "The breakthrough after a year of haggling came with Russia's
new willingness to abstain from the Security Council vote, rather than
block the resolution" the paper reported noting that "US and Russian
foreign ministers are likely this week to discuss the terms of Moscow's

    "Deeply distrustful that the UN weapons inspections teams  can remain
neutral" Moscow "wants to transfer some of the authorities of the new UN
commissioner in charge of Iraq's disarmament to the Security Council". A
compromise had apparently been arrived at on this point with the inclusion
of "a clause that requires the chief UN weapons inspector to submit for
the council's review the list of disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfil
before sanctions are suspended" (FT, 29th November).


    The next day Associated Press, citing diplomatic sources, reported
that the US was suggesting a week-long extension to oil-for-food "while
the council hammers out a broader policy".

    Meanwhile Iraq's deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, flew to Moscow for
talks on the sanctions/inspections resolution. Mr Aziz took the
opportunity to publicly reject the "consensus" resolution (Reuters, 30th
November) and the next day he "rejected as a joke" the US plan for a
extending oil-for-food by one more week (Reuters, 1st December). 

    In the end the Security Council approved a one week extension "with
France refusing to vote in protest and three other countries [Russia,
China and Malaysia] abstaining". "France's UN Ambassador Alain Dejammet
said the one-week extension was too short and impossible to implement"
(AP, 3rd December).    


   AP also noted the belief, on the part of US and British officials, that
"agreement is near on an omnibus resolution - and a week can clinch it". 

   Malaysia's Ambassador, Agam Hasmy, complained that there was "too much
of a hurry" with "artificial deadlines being exerted" and that the 10
non-permanent council members "don't feel we're taken seriously" having
been shown only "bits and pieces" of the omnibus resolution.


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