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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 17:44 GMT

World: Middle East

Iraq dismisses UN sanctions solution

Saddam Hussein has accused the US and Britain of delaying imports

Iraq has rejected UN efforts to agree a deal to suspend sanctions in return for Baghdad allowing UN weapons inspectors into the country.

The BBC's Nick Childs: "There's been a lot of work to try to re-establish at least an appearance of unity on Iraq"
On a visit to Geneva on Wednesday, Iraqi foreign minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said Iraq would only accept a complete lifting of sanctions, which were imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

He said a suspension was not acceptable because it was not provided for in UN Security Council resolutions.

[ image:  ]
"It's better for all parties concerned to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Security Council resolutions," Mr al-Sahaf said.

"Those resolutions have nothing to do with suspending sanctions. This is rewriting those resolutions. We cannot accept them."

Despite Iraq's rejection of the proposed solution, the US administration hopes a new UN resolution will increase the diplomatic pressure on Baghdad.

The US envoy to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, said the Security Council was "close to a solution" for suspending sanctions against Iraq.

He said a resolution was being held up by Washington's determination to make sure that "Saddam cannot get the sanctions permanently suspended through various devices and tricks".

Asked if the US would support dropping sanctions if Iraq complied with a new weapons inspection programme, he said: "That's a hypothetical question in a hypothetical world."

Splits at the UN

[ image: Medical equipment is in short supply in Iraq]
Medical equipment is in short supply in Iraq
The UN Security Council has been at loggerheads over Iraqi policy since the US and UK launched air strikes on Iraq last December.

London and Washington take a hard line towards Baghdad, while Russia and China argue the sanctions are too harsh.

But after much hard diplomatic bargaining, significant progress has been reported in the past two weeks.

Western diplomatic sources say they hope an agreement on a new resolution can be reached this month.

US criticism

In a separate attack on the US and UK, Mr Sahaf pointedly praised the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Baghdad, Hans von Sponeck, as a noble and professional man.

Mr von Sponeck's term has just been renewed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan despite opposition from the US and Britain to get him sacked for his opposition to sanctions.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman James Rubin said Mr von Sponeck had overstepped his mandate by "raising his own personal views as to the wisdom of the sanctions regime".

The US and UK also criticised him for not being rigorous in ensuring that Iraq distributes the aid it receives under the oil-for-food programme.

It was the second clash in just over a week between the US administration and the UN over the Iraqi humanitarian programme.

At the end of October, Mr Annan criticised the US for delaying the delivery of some $700m worth of goods to Iraq under the 1996 oil-for-food programme and, consequently, hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq.

Imports turned down

On Wednesday, the UN sanctions committee blocked a contract to import 16 heart and lung machines to Iraq, for fear that part of the order could be put to military use, according to the United Nations.

All of Iraq's foreign contracts have to be approved to ensure the items cannot be used for developing weapons of mass destruction.

Mr von Sponeck said many of the decisions were "a deterrent for the implementation of the humanitarian programme," complaining that the committee was blocking an increasing number of requests for imports to Iraq.

Baghdad has repeatedly accused US and British representatives on the committee of using fake pretexts to block its imports.

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