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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 16:48 GMT
Analysis: Iraq's 'smart' future
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and advisors
There are no guarantees that Iraq will co-operate
Roger Hardy

The United States and Russia have reached an agreement which could pave the way for the introduction of smart sanctions against Iraq.

After discussions at the United Nations, the two countries have agreed to extend the existing sanctions regime for a further six months, but have pledged to overhaul them at that time.

Russia had previously blocked the introduction of smart sanctions.

It now appears to have given up such efforts, but not before wrestling a compromise from the US.

Shifting the burden

When the US and Britain first sought to introduce them in June, their aim was to open up Iraq to civilian goods - while tightening restrictions on military items.

Iraqi oil plant
Baghdad is currently allowed to exchange oil for humanitarian goods
This would shift the burden of sanctions from Iraqi civilians and on to the Baghdad regime.

The Iraqi government angrily rejected the proposal - and won the crucial backing of Russia.

Now the Russians have worked out a compromise agreement with the Americans.

The existing sanctions regime will be extended for a further six months, until the end of May.

By then a list of the goods Iraq is allowed to import will be approved, which should enable the new smart sanctions to be introduced.

In return, the Americans have agreed to a long-standing Russian demand for what is being called a 'comprehensive settlement' of the whole sanctions issue or, in other words, a clarification of the steps leading to the eventual lifting of sanctions.

Lingering questions

Overall, this is an important agreement, but it leaves some crucial questions hanging in the air.

An Iraqi works in a wheat field
The US says the sanctions would alleviate the burden on civilians
One is Russia's intentions.

Will it use the next six months to haggle over the precise nature of the smart sanctions?

The Russians will be able to argue to Iraqi officials that they have done their best - delaying the smart sanctions for a full year - and cannot do more.

Even so, there is no guarantee Iraq will co-operate with a plan it has consistently opposed.

And while the sanctions issue appears closer to resolution, the question of how to stop Iraq producing weapons of mass destruction remains the subject of intense debate in Washington and other world capitals.

See also:

26 Nov 01 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over UN inspectors
07 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'smart sanctions' postponed
03 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq escapes 'smart sanctions'
26 Jun 01 | Middle East
Russia resists new Iraq sanctions
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