Britain, France Seek Compromise on Oil-for-Food Program

Published June 7th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Britain distributed a compromise proposal Tuesday to extend the UN humanitarian program in Iraq and add some enhancements to improve the delivery of goods, reported The Associated Press, quoting diplomats.  

Talks were expected to continue through Thursday, when the current six-month phase of the oil-for-food program expires, and came after Britain and France issued rival proposals last week, diplomats said.  

While diplomats suggested the widely divergent drafts merely represented negotiating tactics between the two, the different approaches underscored the increasingly politicized debate over the relief program, the AP added.  

The program allows Iraq to sell its oil to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for Iraqis suffering under sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.  

In a first attempt at a compromise draft resolution to keep the program going, Britain on Tuesday dropped its proposed one-year extension and opted instead for the traditional six months, according to the draft, said AP.  

Britain and the United States had sought the 12-month phase, arguing that UN agencies and contracting companies could plan deliveries better.  

France had opposed the measure, saying Iraq would never accept it since it has consistently pressed to have sanctions lifted immediately, the agency said.  

A year long extension would imply that sanctions would remain for at least another year.  

In its new draft circulated Tuesday, Britain also incorporated some elements of the French proposal although it omitted a key French call to allow Iraq to use proceeds from UN-supervised oil sales to pay an estimated $10 million in UN debts, said AP.  

The United States and Britain have ruled out the proposal.  

The British draft does, however, echo French calls for the United Nations to study how to use an estimated $270 million surplus from the program's administrative budget - a fund France had said could be tapped to pay off the arrears, according to the agency.  

France and others such as Russia, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Canada, also suggested Tuesday that the United Nations undertake another study on the overall impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country, diplomats said.  

US officials, however, questioned the feasibility of such a study and said it was unlikely to pass muster in the resolution that must be approved this week, AP pointed out.  

Despite US opposition, Britain kept its suggestion that water sanitation supplies be added to a list of goods that can be approved without authorization from the council's sanctions committee, according to the latest draft.  

The United States has placed an estimated $1.6 billion in contracts for such equipment and oil industry spare parts on hold, out of concern that they might be used for military purposes, the agency added.  

The head of the Oil-for-Food program, Benon Sevan, applauded "the recent and positive trend" towards releasing the holds but urged the council to keep its consultations about the Oil-for-Food program distinct from other highly contentious issues such as Iraq weapons inspections, the AP said - Albawaba.com.  

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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