Syrian Plane to Baghdad May Join Embargo-Busting Flights, Ignoring US Protests
Syria is examining plans to fly a plane to sanctions-hit Iraq, taking its lead from France, Jordan and Russia, a Syrian minister said Tuesday. Meanwhile, the United States has voiced its protest against the moves, insisting that permission should be obtained from the UN beforehand.
"This question is currently under examination in Damascus and a decision will be taken later," Industry Minister Ahmad Hamo said, questioned by Iraq's official INA news agency.
In Damascus, meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Shara called for a lifting of the UN embargo imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, after talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.
"Syria wants the embargo lifted," he said. "We think that it's no longer justifiable to continue the sanctions against Iraq, especially because it's the Iraqi people who are suffering the most.”
France and Russia have both sent flights to Iraq since Baghdad airport reopened on August 17, ignoring protests from the United States, despite a UN air embargo.
On Wednesday, Jordan plans to send a plane carrying more than 80 people and a large amount of medicine to Baghdad, officials said, adding that they had notified the committee of the flight.
A second French flight into the Iraqi capital is planned for Friday, organizers said in Paris and Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline, is considering resuming commercial service to Baghdad.
India has also expressed an interest in sending a plane to Iraq for humanitarian reasons.
"Jordan's decision to send a plane to Baghdad with officials on board delights us because it's the first time that an Arab country takes such a step," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.
"Iraq hopes this trip will clear the way for a resumption of regular flights and that other Arab countries will follow the example.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Tuesday expressed exasperation at the growing number of countries challenging a UN air embargo on Iraq as Jordan prepared to join Russia and France in doing so.
Albright, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said she had raised Washington's displeasure on the matter with her Russian and French counterparts earlier this month at the United Nations and that discussions were "ongoing" with Jordan.
"We are very concerned about this," Albright said, declining, however, to characterize the flights -- one each by Russia and France over the weekend with plans for more -- as "sanctions busting."
"We are concerned about these flights that have taken place," she said, acknowledging differences within the UN committee that oversees sanctions about what the flight ban entails.
"There is a dispute in the committee about whether ... these are sanctions busting or not," she said.
"The UN has not ruled on it, but we have made our point that these flights need approval and we will continue to press the Russians and French on it. These flights require approval not just notification.”
On Monday, the deeply divided sanctions committee was unable to agree on appropriate responses to the flights with Britain and the United States maintaining that they must be authorized and France arguing that the only requirement is notification.
Albright, however, said Washington would remain resolute in its opposition to the flights, reiterating the US position that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was responsible for the suffering of his people and not the sanctions imposed since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"I can assure you that we will remain firm," Albright told the lawmakers.
KUWAIT TAKING PRECAUTIONS
Kuwait said Tuesday it has taken "all necessary precautions" as President Saddam Hussein's latest threats left Iraqi officials at pains to keep up the momentum toward an end of sanctions.
"The Kuwaiti government has taken all necessary precautions to ward off any misadventure that may come from any side," said Kuwait's acting premier and foreign minister, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
Sheikh Sabah, quoted by the emirate's official KUNA news agency, said Kuwait had sent letters to the UN Security Council, Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council about the "serious consequences" of the threats.
The threats coincided with "attempts to eliminate the sufferings of the Iraqi people by forcing their regime to comply with UN resolutions", he said, referring to UN sanctions in force since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam on Monday hit out at both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, accusing them of trying to provoke Baghdad into a confrontation.
"Iraq does not want confrontation with them, but they come to attack us in our own home," the Iraqi president told his cabinet in a speech, referring to US and British air strikes launched from Saudi and Kuwaiti territory.
Saddam said he hoped the people of the two Gulf Arab monarchies would tell their governments: "You are putting the Iraqis into such a position that they are forced to attack you."
The speech drew a sharp warning from Washington.
"US forces, British forces -- we are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to make sure that he does not attack his neighbors or attack his own people," US Defense Secretary William Cohen said.
But Iraqi Information Minister Humam Abdel Khaleq played down the rhetoric.
"I invite you to read Saddam Hussein's words carefully and understand them, so that you don't say afterwards that Iraq is making threats or warnings," the minister said.
"We have no intention of launching a military attack."
And Iraq's official INA news agency said Abdel Khaleq then briefed the heads of diplomatic missions in Baghdad and gave an assurance that no concrete threat was made.
Such assurances were directed at France, Russia and Jordan which have tried to renew bridges with Baghdad and whose initiatives to send flights could be compromised by an escalation -- (AFP)
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