Iraq: Are Sanctions Collapsing?Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
May 21, 1998
Testimony of Under Secretary of State Thomas R. Pickering Committee on Foreign Relations; Committee on Energy and Natural Resources May 21, 1998 Mr. Chairman: I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss with you today US policy towards Iraq and, more specifically, the role the "oil for food" program plays within it. Let me be very clear at the outset that our fundamental goal is to counter the threat the Iraqi regime poses to US national interests and to the peace and security of the Gulf. This goal remains unchanged from the time of Desert Storm. Its importance was manifest in the diplomatic and military resources the US brought to bear last winter, when Iraq once again tried to evade its obligations under the Security Council resolutions that ended the Gulf War. Those resolutions mandate that Iraq is to be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction capabilities and of missile systems with a range of more than 150 kilometers. They also mandate the maintenance of sanctions on Iraq until it has complied with its obligations under the range of Security Council resolutions. I will be very frank. Based on Saddam's record, we have no reason to think he will comply with the obligations the Security Council has levied on Iraq. That means, as far as the US is concerned, that sanctions will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. But since our quarrel is with Saddam, not with the Iraqi people, we have never sought to impose unnecessary hardship on innocent Iraqi civilians who have no voice in the decisions the regime makes. The sanctions themselves never barred the shipment of humanitarian goods to Iraq. Since 1991, we have worked hard to come up with mechanisms to ensure that the humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians can be met within the framework of the sanctions regime. To that end, we have proposed several "oil-for-food" programs, with various degrees of success: The US proposed the first "oil-for-food" program in 1991 with UNSCR 706/712. Iraq rejected this program. In 1995, we drafted UNSCR 986, which provided a slightly revised "oil-for-food" program. Iraq resisted implementing this program for more than a year, then dragged out negotiations with the SYG for months. It finally went into effect in December, 1996. Most recently, we supported the expansion of the "oil-for-food" program under UNSCR 1153, based on the SYG's recommendations that the expanded program was needed to meet the legitimate humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people. The so-called "oil-for-food" framework is a unique effort. For the first time, the international community is using the revenues of a state subject to strict sanctions to meet the humanitarian needs of that state's citizens. Let me be perfectly clear --this is not a "humanitarian assistance" program, but the controlled and monitored utilization of Iraq's own resources to provide for the humanitarian needs of its people. Since 1990, Iraq has been subject to the toughest and most comprehensive international sanctions regime in history. It still is. The "oil-for-food" program keeps these sanctions in place, but makes them endurable for the average Iraqi and acceptable to the larger international community which, unlike Saddam, is concerned about the suffering of his people. The Iraqi government has no control over any of the revenue generated by UN monitored oil-sales; all revenue goes directly into a UN-controlled escrow account. The Iraqi government may not legally purchase anything other than the humanitarian items it was always permitted to buy under the existing sanctions regime -- but chose not to -- and the UN Sanctions Committee must approve all such purchases. Once in the parts of Iraq controlled by the Iraqi government, distribution of these humanitarian purchases is observed by the UN; in the northern areas of Iraq, the distribution is undertaken by the UN directly. Without an "oil-for-food" program in place, our options are stark. Let me be perfectly clear what those options are: -Watching the Iraqi people starve, while Saddam Hussein deliberately refuses to spend Iraq's resources on their welfare; or -Lifting sanctions prematurely. There is no doubt that, without an "oil-for-food" program in place, the Iraqi government would continue to exploit the suffering of its people to force the international community to lift sanctions. This has been Iraq's policy for years. Frankly, after eight years of sanctions, most states in the world either do not understand or do not care that the Iraqi government is fully responsible for the Iraqi people's suffering -- they just want that suffering to end. The "oil-for-food" program allows us to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people without compromising our firm stand on sanctions. In a very real sense, the "oil-for-food" program is the key to sustaining the sanctions regime until Iraq complies with its obligations. The Iraqi government clearly understands this basic dynamic. That is why it rejected earlier efforts to implement an "oil-for-food" program, and why it has gone to such lengths to obstruct the current program. We are now working with the secretariat and other members of the Security Council to ensure the effective implementation of the expanded "oil for food" program the Council approved last February. Predictably, Iraq has been dragging its heels in producing a distribution plan that would allow UNSCR 1153 to go into effect. Even more disturbing, Iraq explicitly rejected some of the SYG's key recommendations which are essential for implementing UNSCR 1153 as intended. Given the importance of the "oil for food" program in humanitarian terms -- and to the sustainability of the sanctions regime -- we will persist in our efforts nonetheless. I should also mention our continuing concern at the illegal traffic in oil and petroleum products conducted by Iraq. The $5.2 billion ceiling under UNSCR 1153 was specifically intended to allow Iraq to sell legally as much of oil as is needed to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. The fact that Iraq continues to export sizeable amounts of petroleum products illegally -- and that the Iraqi government refuses to permit the UN to oversee or monitor these sales -- strongly suggests that the proceeds from these sales are intended for non-humanitarian purposes. We are currently seeking ways to make the Iraqi government accountable for this illegal traffic -- or to end it through tougher enforcement measures. Obviously, the program is not perfect. We recognize that there have been -- and will continue to be -- glitches in the implementation of an effort of this scale, especially given Iraq's attitude toward it. We also must face the fact that some members of the Security Council are far more interested in hastening the end of sanctions than we are, and therefore are less concerned that the "oil-for-food" be implemented as intended. These are realities we must take into account as we move forward with the program. I have outlined for you our approach to the "oil-for-food" program, and have tried to explain some of the reasoning behind it. I hope we can now have a frank and productive exchange of views.
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