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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 17:21 GMT
Powell's new plans for Iraq
Colin Powell shakes hands with Kuwaiti citizens
Powell says he got a positive response from Arab leaders
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

At the end of a rapid Middle East tour, new American Secretary of State Colin Powell said the message he had heard from Arab leaders was that overdoing it with UN sanctions gave President Saddam Hussein a tool to use against Washington.


Mr Powell also has a hard task back home, accommodating members of the administration who take a more hawkish line than he does

Mr Powell intends to have a modified sanctions package ready within a few weeks.

There has already been a cautious welcome to the review of Iraq policy being carried out by the new administration in conjunction with Britain, its fellow hardliner.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed to what he called an important and healthy shift. But it is unclear how big the change will turn out to be.

Weapon control

American officials talk of concentrating the controls on weapons of mass destruction and on military goods, while releasing those on largely civilian supplies to Iraq.

Washington may lift some of the many blocks it has put on things of possible military use - even water pumps and refrigeration equipment.

Al Basra oil refinery in Iraq
Saddam Hussein does not control his oil revenues
That would be a shift in the Pentagon's hard line but not a radical move.

Security Council Resolution 1284 adopted at the end of 1999 already allows extensive lists of agreed items that Iraq can import without case-by-case approval.

British officials argue that the weight of the embargo has already been shifted on to military goods.

These officials discount the idea of a fundamental change in the sanctions regime: the United States and Britain are not talking about a new Security Council resolution.

That would seem to rule out what many critics of sanctions would like: to shift from a general trade embargo on Iraq - with certain exceptions - to a system where the Iraqis were basically allowed to import everything except for items considered to have direct military applications.

Oil revenues

Such a regime would require tougher border controls to scrutinise imports from Iraq's neighbours - and Mr Powell has been talking about the need for them in any case.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf
Al-Sahaf says his country will not re-admit weapons inspectors
On the other side of the equation, British officials say it is very unlikely that London and Washington will give President Saddam Hussein control of his oil revenues again.

They say that last year, $24bn dollars of Iraqi oil revenues were under UN supervision.

Despite increased smuggling, only $1.5bn were under his direct control.

The real object of the policy review is to turn the public relations battle around: Washington and London are embarking on an uphill struggle to convince the Arab world that they are not to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people.


In seeking to regain the initiative, the Bush administration will try to wrong foot the Iraqis, taking advantage of their tendency to overplay their hand

Mr Powell said he had found a positive response to his ideas from Arab leaders in private.

But limited changes may not be enough.

Officials concede that the public perception is that sanctions, not Saddam Hussein, are responsible.

Many in the West think the propaganda war is lost.

Hard task

In seeking to regain the initiative, the Bush administration will try to wrong foot the Iraqis, taking advantage of their tendency to overplay their hand.

At the United Nations, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, said his country would not re-admit weapons inspectors even if sanctions were lifted entirely - a comment that makes Iraq look too obdurate.

The Americans are trying to get French and Russian support for a revised sanctions regime.

But Mr Powell also has a hard task back home, accommodating members of the administration who take a more hawkish line than he does.

It is not clear yet that Washington is speaking with one voice.

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See also:

26 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell aims to plug Iraqi oil flow
25 Feb 01 | Middle East
Western show of strength in Kuwait
21 Feb 01 | Middle East
Iraq takes hard line with UN
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