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U.S. Must Devise Strategy to Keep Pressure on Iraq

By Julia Preston
The Washington Post
UNITED NATIONS

Even though the United States appears to have won a majority on the Security Council for keeping the oil embargo on Iraq, it must still devise an effective strategy for keeping pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the United Nations, diplomats here cautioned Sunday.

Washington's U.N. ambassador, Madeleine K. Albright, said Saturday that a lobbying tour she undertook last week gave the United States 10 votes on the 15-nation Security Council in favor of continuing U.N. economic sanctions, including the ban on petroleum exports by Iraq. France and Russia, which are permanent Security Council members and important allies of the United States, have suggested they might seek a suspension of the oil embargo as early as April.

Diplomats said Sunday that support for the U.S. view from key Security Council countries may be less than what Albright claimed.

The U.S. approach does not fully address one problem: The Security Council resolution governing the oil embargo explicitly states that sanctions should be rolled back when Iraq complies with a U.N. program to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. Once the chairman of the U.N. special weapons commission, Rolf Ekeus, declares he is satisfied with Iraq's performance, the Security Council is under a legal obligation to follow through in some way with the terms of its resolution.

An even stickier problem stems from the fact that Iraq already has gone further than anyone expected after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to meet the conditions of the U.N. peace settlement. Ekeus has reported to the Security Council that, under the supervision of his commission, Iraq has effectively eliminated its current capability for chemical and large-missile warfare.

Many governments, including those that support the United States overall, fear that if the United Nations does nothing to acknowledge that cooperation, Saddam will have no incentive to prolong it and could shut down the U.N. program that monitors Iraq's weapons industry.

In several countries Albright visited, the governments were careful to couch in very general terms their assurances of support for the U.S. position that Baghdad has not done enough on a number of fronts to merit sanctions relief.

Italian diplomats referred Sunday to the statement by a spokesman for Prime Minister Lamberto Dini after his meeting with Albright. Italy simply reaffirmed its "former position" that Iraq must comply with all Security Council resolutions and that tough U.N. monitoring must continue. The diplomats said they have received no further instructions from Rome.

By telephone from Bonn, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We are absolutely of the same opinion as the U.S. government that all relevant U.N. resolutions must be fulfilled before lifting the embargo can be considered. We don't believe these conditions have been met yet." Germany is one of the United States's strong allies on this issue. Yet Bonn's statement was not that different from that of France, which opposes Washington.

"We of course demand, with the rest of the international community, that Iraq obey all its obligations under Security Council resolutions," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Duque said in Paris last week. But he added, "We have also said that if Iraq progresses in responding to those resolutions, we must also take that into account."

It is difficult for countries such as Argentina, Botswana, the Czech Republic, Honduras and Rwanda to say anything but yes when Washington launches a blitz such as Albright's, diplomats said. She carried toughly worded letters from President Clinton in which he argued that Washington's lead role in the gulf war and the preventive military mobilization in the Persian Gulf last November entitled it to a leadership role in deciding when to lift the sanctions.

Albright also displayed photographic and other evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence to show that Iraq is rapidly rebuilding a huge industrial facility near Baghdad that could be used for chemical weapons. U.S. intelligence officials estimated that Iraq could be back to building ballistic missiles within one year and chemical weapons in two if it chooses. The officials also provided evidence that Iraq has spent up to $2 billion on palaces for government officials at a time when basic supplies are scarce for ordinary Iraqis.

But many council diplomats will continue to look for ways to keep channels open to Baghdad, perhaps by setting a date for suspending the sanctions, or proposing new means for Iraq to sell some petroleum to meet the humanitarian needs of its battered people.