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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK

World: Middle East

Big powers seek agreement on Iraq

Iraq demands an unconditional lifting of sanctions

Foreign ministry officials of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are reported to have made progress at talks to find common ground on easing sanctions on Iraq.

"The permanent five political directors had a useful and constructive discussion on outstanding issues on Iraq," a UK Foreign Office spokesman said.

"Progress was made but eventual success is not certain," the spokesman said.

Further meetings have been scheduled for later this week and early next week in New York.

They could pave the way for a meeting of foreign ministers in New York next week on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are strongly divided over whether to lift the UN-imposed sanctions in exchange for restarting the arms inspection regime in Iraq.

Baghdad has steadfastly demanded the unconditional lifting of the embargo, which was imposed after it invaded neighbouring Kuwait in 1990.

Three proposals

A joint Anglo-Dutch proposal to the Security Council suggested suspending the embargo on exports only, for a renewable period of 120 days, if Baghdad meets certain minimum conditions on arms inspections.

The proposal has American support.

But French officials are highly sceptical about the resolution because they say there is no hope of Iraq cooperating with it.

Instead, France has put forward its own proposal for a 100-day renewable suspension on all sanctions when a new inspection team is up and running, as well as tight control of Iraqi finances.

Russia meanwhile favours an indefinite suspension of sanctions, a position China also seems likely to favour.

Baghdad has rejected all three proposals.

Unscom still barred

[ image: Unscom officials have not been back to Baghdad since their pullout last December]
Unscom officials have not been back to Baghdad since their pullout last December
Inspectors from the UN Special Commission (Unscom) charged with monitoring Iraqi disarmament left Baghdad just before the US-British air strikes on Iraq last December.

Iraq has barred them from returning, accusing them of spying, until the sanctions are lifted.

'War criminal'

As the meeting got underway, Iraq voiced anger at a new US report blaming President Saddam Hussein for his nation's woes.

On Monday, a US State Department report accused the Iraqi leader of being a war criminal and the main cause of the suffering of his own people by diverting humanitarian supplies intended to ease the effects of sanctions.

"This latest Zionist campaign is part of the feverish US efforts to pass the hypocritical British resolution which we reject," said the ruling Baath party's newspaper, Al-Thawra.

"These lies and this deceit aim to raise doubts over Iraq's commitment to disarmament and give the impression that inspections of Iraqi (weapons) sites are still necessary," the daily said.

Over target

Meanwhile Iraq is on track to gain $7bn in oil revenues under the latest phase of the UN oil-for-food programme.

[ image: Rising oil prices have boosted Iraq's income under the oil-for-food programme]
Rising oil prices have boosted Iraq's income under the oil-for-food programme
This would be almost $2bn over the permitted maximum.

The office of the UN humanitarian programme said Iraqi oil revenues since the start of June have almost reached $4bn already, with two more months left in the latest phase of the accord.

"The humanitarian situation in this country is still appallingly bad. Everybody recognises that. Any additional revenues will be put to good use," said UN spokesman George Somerwill.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has hinted that the $5.2bn ceiling for Iraqi crude exports could be raised by at least $1bn to take account of rising crude prices.

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