Powell: Syria will Place Iraqi Pipeline under UN Control
Syria has pledged to put its controversial pipeline from Iraq under the control of the United Nations, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Brussels Tuesday at the end of his Middle East tour.
The scheme will allow the United Nations to supervise Baghdad's exports and place oil revenue under the control of the UN oil-for-food program, he said.
Powell said Syrian President Bashar Assad had assured him three times in the course of a one-hour meeting late Monday in Damascus that his country did not want to violate UN sanctions on Iraq, which prohibit Baghdad from exporting oil outside the auspices of the program, said AFP.
"The president said to me, in response to my query, that it is their plan to bring the pipeline and what is going through the pipeline, and revenues generated in that pipeline to be under the same kind of control as other elements of the sanctions regime," Powell said.
"I found that to be a very important statement on his part and we have passed that information to (US President George W.) Bush and he is likewise pleased," Powell said.
"I have high confidence that this will work out because we went back to this three times with the president and there was solid agreement," Powell told reporters accompanying him to Belgium after leaving Syria, said the agency.
Washington has for months suspected that Syria was importing Iraqi oil illegally through the pipeline at below market prices and using it to make up for a shortfall created by selling domestically pumped oil abroad.
According to the Washington Post newspaper, the US State department has repeatedly asked Damascus for an explanation of the sharp increases in sales of its domestic oil abroad which came amid reports that Iraqi oil was flowing through the pipeline.
However, the only response it had received until Powell's brief stop in Syria on Monday was that the pipeline was being tested, an explanation that US officials said had become increasingly difficult to believe, reported the Post.
Earlier this month, the department said it would be willing to accept Iraqi oil exports through the pipeline to Syria as long as the money Damascus paid for it was placed in the oil-for-food program.
Assad's message to Powell came on the last leg of the secretary's whirlwind Middle East tour in which he was seeking support to revise UN sanctions on Iraq with an eye to easing those on commercial goods and tightening those on military items.
Such revisions would likely change the restrictions on what Iraq is allowed to purchase under the oil-for-food program.
A senior State Department official hinted before Powell arrived in Syria that Washington would apply a great deal of pressure, including its upcoming candidacy for the UN Security Council to press Damascus to accept the offer.
Meanwhile, the Post said that Powell, who has been explaining the outline for what officials call "smart sanctions" during his current tour of Middle East capitals, said he did not get support for every detail of the US plan. But he said that "everyone I spoke to said you've got to go down this track."
Powell acknowledged that some critics could see the revision as watering down the sanctions. "Charges will come that this is weakening; I understand that," he said.
But he explained that by stripping away some of the broader economic sanctions, the United Nations could strengthen the core sanctions by raising the idea that countries that violate them will face real penalties.
"Right now," he added, "the consequences have less currency because things are in, I must say, a state of disarray."
Powell has spoken several times during his trip about scaling back some of the broad UN economic embargo on trade and travel if this can help build Arab support for narrower sanctions. During talks with leaders of five Arab countries, including those today in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria, Powell has stressed that the restrictions should be specifically directed at imports and revenue that could help Iraq develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, said the paper.
Powell, said the paper, found that Arab leaders have consistently approved measures that would keep Iraqi President's military ambitions in check while easing the economic distress of his citizens, a senior State department official said. "We think there is a clear understanding of the directions we are taking," the official said. "The trip has built our confidence in our efforts." - Albawaba.com
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