PRESS CONFERENCE BY FOREIGN MINISTRY UNDER-SECRETARY OF IRAQ
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 June 2001
Iraq was being given a proposal that looked sweet, but its substance was poisonous, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, Riyadh Al-Qaysi, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, as he responded to questions about the proposed changes to the sanctions regime against his country.
A correspondent asked whether, if no changes were made in the oil-for-food programme, but the proposed resolution still contained the same language as the 1 June text (saying that the Council would continue discussing the so-called “smart sanctions”) Iraq would resume its oil exports?
The answer is a categorical no, Mr. Al-Qaysi said.
Responding to a question about the humanitarian situation in the country, he said that Iraq’s plans for all strata of its society were not exclusively contingent on the so-called humanitarian programmes. Even with the limited means at its disposal, Iraq had its own programmes, trying to improve the situation. “Programme or no programme, our plans have never stopped”, he said. It was quite well known that the humanitarian programme had started in 1996, whereas sanctions were imposed on the country in 1991. The country’s own programmes had not ceased after the introduction of the humanitarian programme, and they would continue.
Asked for his opinion on the draft resolution on the oil-for food programme which had been proposed by the Russian Federation, he said he would not speculate regarding Iraq’s position. It was in the initial stages of discussion in the Security Council. Iraq was adopting a “wait-and-see” approach in that regard. Later, it would study the situation, taking into consideration its own interests. The draft was being presented in the context of the consultations that related to other ideas and proposals. He did not want to speculate on just one of the drafts, without referring to the others.
If the new sanctions regime were approved, a correspondent asked, would Iraq decline an improved humanitarian assistance programme in protest?
Mr. Al-Qaysi replied that he had outlined his position at the Security Council meeting yesterday. The draft before the Council did not present any improvement in the situation. On the contrary, it would institutionalize a new regime of sanctions that was harsh, neocolonialist and overloaded with all kinds of constraints and conditions. Based on the careful study of the draft, as well as his country’s experience, his position was neither an emotional outcry, nor propaganda. It was quite a rational position to adopt.
“We do not see any advantage in the proposal”, he continued. How could the flow of goods to Iraq improve with all the conditions involved? It was quite apparent from the statements of several representatives, including those of the United Kingdom and the United States, that they believed the new system would improve the flow of civilian goods. “But when you go into the details of what is going to come up later, you will find the devil there”, he added. The new approach was even worse than the mandatory and the trusteeship system -- it was a complete negation of the State, the Government and the people of Iraq. It would disrupt the oil and the ration card systems in Iraq and negate Iraq’s role in the
financial market and the banking sector. That could not be called freeing the flow of goods. Instead of getting relief, Iraq was getting a proposal to make a step backwards.
Responding to a question about Kuwaiti prisoners of war and property, he said that those issues were being raised for political reasons in order to prolong the sanctions. It was not an issue of prisoners of war, but of missing persons. In response to Security Council resolution 686 of March 1991, and under the threat of renewed attacks, Iraq had immediately repatriated all prisoners of war under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Subsequently, the ICRC had presented a paper, according to which the repatriation had been concluded in 1991. There was also no mention of the prisoners of war in the Council’s resolution 867 on Iraq, adopted in April 1991. “Now, is the Security Council stupid to know that there are still questions about prisoners of war pending, and it adopts a major resolution without any reference to it?” he asked. “Are the United States and the coalition members stupid to know that some of the prisoners of war are not repatriated -- and they do not renew the hostilities?”
On the question of the missing persons, a series of meetings was held in Saudi Arabia in the period from March to July 1991. In the minutes signed by the representatives of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, France and the United States on 26 June, there was a heading referring to the termination of repatriation process. All those facts were presented to the so-called “Amorim panel”, entrusted with humanitarian questions, including the issue of the prisoners of war. That panel was composed of four persons, three of whom were excellent jurists. The crucial question they should have addressed was whether the issue before them was an issue of prisoners of war or missing persons. After eight weeks of deliberations, the four members of the panel wrote that the time at their disposal did not allow them to finalize an answer to the question.
He went on to say that among the people about whom Iraq had received official inquiry forms, there were an 8-year old girl, a Filipina maid and several elderly people. Those people were referred to as prisoners of war. As far as missing persons were concerned, Iraq had also addressed some questions to Kuwait in that regard. To date, there had been no response. When it was said that Iraq boycotted the work of the tripartite commission under the auspices of the ICRC, it was not true. Iraq had stressed all along that it was ready to work with the Commission, provided that those who attended were countries that had missing persons on file. Neither the United States, nor the United Kingdom, nor France had any such files. Under Security Council resolution 687, Iraq and all other parties had equal obligations to cooperate in accounting for all missing persons.
Regarding the return of property, he said that Iraq had returned what it had found since 1991, including gold, currency, military equipment and museum property. It also intended to return whatever it would find in the future. Those interested also had recourse to a compensation commission, which had been in operation for almost three years. Compensation had been provided on many property claims that had been submitted. That was a “non-issue”.
To a question about a missing American pilot, Mr. Al-Qaysi replied that it was the height of hypocrisy. Upon a request from the ICRC and in accordance with the protocol, a visit of a 12-person American team had been organized to investigate the crash site in Iraq. After four days, the team left without paying the bill and wrote a report without a single word of appreciation for the cooperation of the Iraqi side. Only a year or two later did the questions arise. The allegation was that the pilot was still alive in Iraq and that his Government was hiding him. A CBS news team had investigated the question only to learn later that the whole issue, as well as the change of the status of the pilot from a “missing person” to ”missing in action” had been prompted by some financial considerations on behalf of the pilot’s wife. The United States wanted to list the question on the tripartite commission’s agenda to counteract the position of Iraq that it did not have a file. The ICRC had refused, because the deadline for the submission of files had been on 31 July 1995.
To a question about the free trade arrangements with Turkey, Mr. Al-Qaysi said that the position of that country had been presented yesterday at the Council.
A correspondent asked how long it would take Iraq to return to the normal levels of oil exports, provided the Council passed “a simple roll-over resolution” on the oil-for-food programme. Also, was Iraq concerned about the loss of revenues?
Mr. Al-Qaysi replied that Iraq knew how to take care of its revenues. He was not an oil expert to know when the country would resume or not resume its oil exports, once it had accepted “what came out of the Council”. So far, the country had not accepted any provisions. It was important to remember that not all the obligations under the oil-for-food programme were being met. For example, according to the last statement of the Office of the Iraq Programme on the status of contracts for the week of 16 to 22 June, 37 new contracts valued at $98.6 million had been placed on hold, including a contract for the purchase of computers for the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education. Requests for additional technical information were among the reasons most frequently used to put contracts on hold. Currently, there were 1,302 contracts on hold. More than 800 of them were contracts for humanitarian supplies, and some 400 for oil industry spare parts and equipment. That would hinder the resumption of oil exports.
In answer to a question on how Iraq would survive without a humanitarian programme, he said the country had done so from 1991 till 1996.
Responding to a question about external audit, Mr. Al-Qaysi explained that yesterday he had submitted an official request to the Council to provide impartial external auditing of the oil-for-food programme from its inception, in consultation with the Government of Iraq. He was convinced that the country’s resources were being squandered under various pretexts and for various personal interests. Expenditures should have been audited, but only one internal audit had taken place, and in respect of only one aspect of the programme. Many irregularities had been observed during that audit.
To another question, he said his country would continue to resist any attempts to jeopardize the future of the young generation in Iraq. However, the future of the young generation was not the only concern about the smart sanctions, because his country would not accept them just to please “the stomach without a brain” in pursuit of “the good life”.
In response to a question about the quality of life in Iraq, he said: “I assure you, we work hard to try with the limited means at our disposal to make the conditions better”. However, there were many constraints under the sanctions, which were explained in detail in various international agency reports, including those by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the Coordinator for Iraq. The country had repaired most of the damage, which had been inflicted on it in 1991 contrary to the international law. That was true, regardless of the propaganda directed against Iraq. Iraq could not count on any actions approved by the Security Council, because that body had been ”privatized by the United States”, the main aggressor against Iraq. He did not coin that term, for the word “privatized” had been first applied to the Council by Professor John Quigly of Michigan Law School.
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