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Change at the NYTimes: "Concentrate efforts on controlling flow of arms into Iraq"

Last week the NYTimes principal columnist for Foreign Affairs - Thomas
Friedman - called for a shift in U.S. sanctions policy on Iraq.  The other
shoe dropped on Sunday, as the Times' editorial board shifted the paper's
institutional stance.

In a lengthy editorial yesterday, the NYTimes said, "The sensible response
(to erosion of sanctions) is to concentrate international efforts on
controlling the flow of arms and related industrial goods into Iraq."
Although the Editorial reads like an essay in real politik, the paper
acknowledges the shift in recommended policy (paragraph 2) and mentions the
"hardships on the Iraqi people that have accompanied the sanctions"
(paragraph 4, stumbling over this fact as if it were the office cat).

The editorial can arguably be read as an endorsement of (limited) de-linking
and smart sanctions, and represents a significant turn-around by an
institution not known for change.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

February 11, 2001
Revisiting the Iraq Sanctions
A decade after he directed the victory of the United States and its allies
in the Persian Gulf war, Colin Powell faces the difficult task of
revitalizing the international effort to prevent Iraq from rearming. When he
makes his first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state later this
month, General Powell will essentially need to reinvent the rules for
dealing with Iraq by enlisting the aid of regional leaders in tightening the
arms embargo on Baghdad while simultaneously relaxing other trade sanctions.
He will then have to gain the support of the United Nations Security Council
for the revised approach.

This page has strongly supported Washington's efforts over the last 10 years
to prevent Saddam Hussein from regaining the military might to threaten his
neighbors. When diplomatic pressure failed, we endorsed the use of American
air strikes to force Iraqi compliance with United Nations arms control
measures. Thwarting Mr. Hussein's ambition to rebuild his military forces
must remain the central goal of American policy.

But it has become clear in recent months that the array of sanctions that
the Security Council imposed on Iraq in the early 1990's has been rapidly
weakening as Arab and Muslim countries grow impatient with the restrictions
and two permanent members of the Council, Russia and France, press to ease
Baghdad's isolation. Recent weeks have seen a rapid deterioration.
Commercial flights to Iraq with uninspected cargo have resumed and Mr.
Hussein has obtained billions of dollars in revenue from illicit oil sales
that he can use to start rebuilding his capacity to develop nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons. Because of Iraqi intransigence and the
lingering divisions on the Security Council, no arms inspectors have set
foot in Iraq since 1998.

The world needs a more cleary defined and enforceable strategy. To be
effective, the policy must have the active support of Iraq's neighbors in
the region, many of which want to relieve the hardships on the Iraqi people
that have accompanied the sanctions. The continuing stalemate between Israel
and the Palestinians has added to Arab restiveness.

The sensible response is to concentrate international efforts on controlling
the flow of arms and related industrial goods into Iraq. An effective arms
embargo requires both tight financial controls on how Baghdad spends its oil
revenues and strict measures to prevent the sale or delivery of banned
military items to Iraq from abroad. 

In theory, such a system is already in place. All of Iraq's legitimate oil
income is deposited in an escrow account that is managed by the Security
Council, which limits expenditures to civilian purposes. Sea, land and air
cargo destined for Iraq is subject to inspection before it enters the
country. But Mr. Hussein has maneuvered around the financial restrictions by
smuggling oil to market, often with the acquiescence of nearby nations like
Syria, Iran, Turkey and Jordan. He may soon start defying the ban on
importing military goods because Iraq's borders are porous and few nations
make an effort to block the sale or shipment of military goods to Baghdad.

To gain the cooperation of other states in enforcing the arms embargo and
combatting Iraq's oil smuggling, Washington should offer a more flexible
approach toward non-weapons imports. Currently, American diplomats are
holding up billions of dollars of imports needed for civilian
transportation, electric power generation, the oil industry and even medical
treatment because they could potentially be put to military as well as
civilian uses. 

Washington should agree to re-examine these items on a case-by-case basis.
Imports likely to be used in the production of biological, chemical or
nuclear weapons must remain banned, but controls on other items could be
relaxed over time. This would also likely win Russian and French support.

A revitalized embargo will not resolve the long impasse over the return of
U.N. inspectors to Iraq. For the moment, at least, the use of air strikes to
force Mr. Hussein to readmit inspectors seems untenable because of
international opposition. But Mr. Hussein must understand that the
suspension or even eventual lifting of most remaining sanctions requires
unfettered access by the inspectors to all suspected weapons sites. 

The Bush administration's initial action on Iraq was an ill-advised decision
to assist opposition groups inside Iraq, even though they have little chance
of undermining Mr. Hussein. But the administration has made clear it
recognizes the weaknesses of the current sanctions system and hopes to rally
support for limiting Iraq's access to weapons and military equipment. Using
the formidable powers of a new presidency and his own high standing in the
Middle East, General Powell must try to reconstruct a united and effective
front against Mr. Hussein.

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