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The BBC's Barnaby Mason
"There is no prospect of a loosening of American policy"
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Sunday, 6 August, 2000, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
US keeps grip on Iraq
UN Security Council
Sanctions were imposed a few days after the invasion of Kuwait
By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

On the 10th anniversary of the imposition of a United Nations economic blockade on Iraq, the United States has defended the sanctions policy as the best available means of containing President Saddam Hussein.

US State Department's Thomas Pickering
Thomas Pickering: 'Saddam Hussein is responsible'
A top State Department official, Thomas Pickering, told journalists on a video link from Washington to London that the Iraqi leader was responsible for the suffering of his people.

The trade embargo has been relaxed in response to mounting international criticism.

A few days ago, the French Government said the sanctions had become cruel, ineffective and dangerous.

Critics have blamed the suffering, for example the shortage of drugs in Iraqi hospitals, on the United States - for holding up certain items under the oil-for-food programme on the grounds that they might be used to make weapons.

In the last two years, two successive heads of the UN relief programme in Iraq have resigned in protest at the sanctions.

'Iraqi problem'

Iraqui oil refinery
The oil-for-food programme is the only exception
Mr Pickering repeated American charges that President Saddam Hussein was diverting food to his favourites and storing supplies for the military.

Even though he did not provide any specific evidence, Mr Pickering pointed to the fact that Iraq's oil revenues had gone up sharply - oil exports are not far short of the level before the Gulf War - but its purchases of food had hardly increased at all.

This is an Iraqi government problem

Thomas Pickering, US State Department
Mr Pickering emphasised that the expanded oil-for-food programme now covered a wide range of goods, not just food and medicine.

"This is not a UN problem; this is not a world community problem: this is an Iraqi government problem. And the bulk of the things that Iraq needs have been taken off the list and some never were," he said.

Weapon inspection issue

At the same time, the United States is maintaining its hard line that there can be no general suspension or lifting of sanctions until Iraq co-operates again with UN weapons inspectors.

An Iraqui woman and the omnipresent country leader
Sanctions affect common Iraqis rather than Saddam Hussein
The Iraqis have rejected the offer to this effect made by the Security Council last December.

Mr Pickering said that if sanctions were lifted now it would open the flood-gates to the rebuilding of President Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

It would threaten the controls on the import of goods that could have a military use, he said, and remove the basis for the western naval force that intercepts and searches ships bound for Iraq.

Mr Pickering's remarks offer no prospect of a loosening of American policy; but in any case, any re-think would have to wait until a new president takes office next January.

The main Security Council sanctions resolution against Iraq, number 661, was passed on 6 August 1990, a few days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

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