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US, Russia Try to Find Agreement on Iraq Sanctions - 2001-11-26

The United States is mounting a last minute diplomatic drive to get Russia to support an overhaul of U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Moscow is the only holdout among the five permanent U.N. Security Council members against changing the sanctions against Baghdad, which are up for renewal at the end of the week.

The push for a change to the so-called "smart sanctions" against Iraq is being led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov by telephone Monday for the second time in three days.

But there is no indication Moscow is willing to budge from its position, as the latest six month phase of the sanctions program moves toward expiration on Friday.

The United States has been seeking to scrap the decade-old "oil-for-food" sanctions program in favor of a revised system that tightens restrictions on military-related imports by Iraq, while easing controls on civilian goods.

Moscow, which has extensive commercial interests in Iraq, has wanted to see an outright end to sanctions and would presumably use its Security Council veto to block the new plan if it came up for a vote.

Briefing reporters in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher gave no indication of progress in Mr. Powell's efforts, but said he has not given up hope of getting Moscow to join a Security Council consensus on new sanctions.

"We're still trying to work that, and to get agreement as soon as possible that would bring Russia into an alignment with the other members of the 'Perm Five,' (five permanent security council members) and indeed with the rest of the Security Council," Mr. Boucher said. "We're still working on trying to achieve a new resolution that precisely targets Iraq's acquisition of weapons and the materiel to make them, particularly weapons of mass destruction, and which can allow a smoother flow of goods, civilian goods, for the Iraqi people."

In the absence of Russian support for revised sanctions, the current program could be extended for another six months.

But Mr. Boucher was reluctant to talk about a fallback position for the administration, saying discussions are continuing.

The "oil for food" program allows Iraq to sell oil and spend the revenue on food, medicine and other supplies. U.S. officials have criticized the program as having too many loopholes, while allowing Baghdad to exploit the notion that the sanctions are contributing to civilian suffering in Iraq.

The sanctions were imposed after the Gulf War, and are to be removed only when the Security Council is satisfied Iraq has eliminated weapons of mass destruction.

In comments at the White House Monday, President Bush again called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to readmit the U.N. weapons inspectors he expelled in 1998.

Asked what would happen if the Iraqi leader refused, Mr. Bush replied, "he'll find out."