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France: Suspend sanctions

The surprise proposal doesn't go far enough for the United States, which wants the U.N. embargo quickly lifted.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

France unexpectedly proposed suspending U.N. sanctions that target Iraqi civilians but insisted that the 13-year-old embargo could not be formally lifted until U.N. inspectors certify Iraq's disarmament.

The initiative reflected mounting concern by Paris that it could be viewed as preventing Iraqis from reviving their economy as they emerge from more than a decade of sanctions.

The proposal would achieve a key French objective by guaranteeing international control over Iraq's oil revenue until an internationally recognized Iraqi government is in power. And it set Paris at odds with Washington over the pace of sanctions relief and the role of the United Nations inspectors in Iraq.

France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, announced the plan to the Security Council on a day when the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, criticized the United States for making its case for military action against Iraq on the basis of sometimes shaky intelligence and U.S. officials in the field acknowledged they have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"It is conspicuous that so far they have not stumbled upon anything, evidence," Blix told reporters after briefing the council. He also noted that Amir al-Saadi, Saddam Hussein's former science adviser, declared after his surrender to U.S. forces that "there were no weapons of mass destruction and that time would bear him out."

Thirty-one days after a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq to disarm the Iraqi regime, the United States has "not found any weaponized chemicals, biological agents or any nuclear devices at this point," Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the deputy director of operations for the U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday in Doha, Qatar.

With the United Nations re-emerging as a major battleground over the future of Iraq, the Bush administration pressed ahead with its own efforts to see sanctions quickly lifted, not just suspended.

The Security Council imposed sanctions after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and modified them in 1996 with an oil-for-food program that allowed Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil to pay for humanitarian goods and reparations for the first Gulf War.

The program had been feeding 60 percent of Iraq's 24-million people.

The proposal would suspend the U.N. ban on trade and investment in Iraq while leaving the military embargo in place.

French diplomats said their proposal would permit foreign investment in Iraq for the first time in more than a decade. It would also allow the resumption of commercial flights and financing of all exports.

"Sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He said that the Bush administration would begin discussions with France and other key Security Council members to "see how best that can be achieved and how quickly."

Negroponte said that the United States sees no U.N. role "for the time being or for the foreseeable future" in verifying the disarmament of Iraq. Negroponte said the U.S.-led coalition has assumed that responsibility and would increase its inspection activities.

The French proposal put Russia on the defensive. Russia had long advocated an end to sanctions on Hussein's government. Following the U.S. invasion, Russia opposed a request by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to lift sanctions on the import of humanitarian goods. Russia's U.N. ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, told reporters Tuesday that "we are not at all opposing the lifting of sanctions."

But he said that Moscow would insist the U.N. weapons inspectors first verify the country's disarmament.

"We all want to know that there are no (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq, and the only way to verify it is to have inspectors in Iraq and to see for themselves and to report back to the Security Council. As soon as they deliver the report, the sanctions could be lifted I'm sure," he said.

In Iraq, Jay Garner, the retired U.S. general overseeing the postwar reconstruction, began a tour of the north on Tuesday.

Garner, 65, arrived in Sulayimaniyah, about 150 miles southeast of Mosul, to a warm and well-orchestrated reception. He received a huge bouquet of flowers and was showered with rose petals as he worked his way through a receiving line of political dignitaries.

Garner and his team are scheduled to head today to Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, where they are planning to establish an administrative center.

But coalition troops do not have full control of the area.

Marines at the Mosul airfield faced gunfire overnight Monday and numerous weapons caches were being identified throughout the city, according to field commanders' preliminary reports radioed to the Army's V Corps headquarters at Baghdad International Airport.

In contrast, central and southern Iraq, which have had little recent military action, were the scenes of celebration as hundreds of thousands of Shiites walked to Karbala waving green, red and gold flags in honor of the death of their martyred leader, Imam Hussein, at the battle of Karbala in 680.

A jubilant crowd reveled in its newly recovered religious freedom by beating themselves until the city center shook with the sound of palms on flesh. Others whipped themselves with chains, and some cut themselves with blades.

In Baghdad, the lights came back on in parts of the city on Tuesday. Jumping for joy, Yosra As'aad, a 42-year-old mother of three, hit the switch and screamed: "Electricity is here!" Up and down the block, neighbors ran outside their houses to cheer and fire weapons in the air.

Still, more than 80 percent of the city had no power -- and doctors reported the first suspected cases of cholera and typhoid, with no clean running water yet.

Residents across Baghdad have left their light switches flipped on for three weeks -- waiting for electricity to return.

"Thank God. We were living in darkness," said As'aad, who flipped on every switch. Then, with Baghdad's summer coming, she ran to put bottles of water into the refrigerator.

Engineers say a quarter of the city will have power by today, and they expect electricity to be completely restored within days. Then they can move on to bringing back the water and sewage systems.

About 50 percent to 60 percent of the children brought for treatment at Al-Iskan children's hospital were suffering from dehydration and diarrhea caused by dirty water and other unsanitary conditions, said Dr. Ahmed Abdul Fattah, the assistant director.

In modern hospitals, cholera is easily controlled with antibiotics, but untreated, the disease kills 50 percent to 80 percent of those infected. It is most lethal for children under 5 and for the elderly. Typhoid is treatable with antibiotics, but occasionally fatal for victims who do not get proper care.

Brooks dismissed reports of Hussein sightings in Baghdad. "We don't have any current, credible intelligence that tells us that."

Iraqi National Congress members have said that Hussein is hiding in an area between Baghdad and the eastern border. An Army operations officer said it was more likely that one of Hussein's body doubles was seen in the area.

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