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Iraq Drops Restrictions on Polish Diplomats Representing US Interests - 2002-07-17

Iraq has told the United States it will drop travel restrictions on Polish diplomats representing U.S. interests in Baghdad that had forced the Poles to violate U.N. sanctions when leaving that country. The restrictions in effect since April had caused the U.S. "interests section" at the Polish embassy to dwindle to just one diplomat.

Though overall U.S.-Iraqi relations are anything but cordial, it does appear that the Baghdad government has decided to alleviate at least one irritant in the relationship.

The State Department says that following repeated U.S. protests, Iraq has lifted a three-month-old restriction forbidding Polish diplomats working in the U.S. interests section in Baghdad to enter and leave the country overland through Jordan.

Spokesman Richard Boucher noted the effect of the rule was to try to force the Polish officials to violate U.N. sanctions by taking commercial flights out of the country.

"What they were requiring was that Polish diplomats at the U.S. interests section would have to travel in and out of the country by air on the commercial flights that would violate the U.N. sanctions," he pointed out. "And as I think I mentioned the other day, we're not about to support that idea. And we made quite clear to them that it is not appropriate for them to ask anyone to violate U.N. sanctions."

Mr. Boucher said that because of the restriction, Polish members of the U.S. interests section who had left Baghdad on U.N. authorized humanitarian flights had not been able to return, and the office dealing with American affairs in the embassy had dwindled to just one Polish official.

The spokesman said Poland's foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, informed Secretary of State Colin Powell of the Iraqi decision at a meeting here Monday, and that Iraq followed that up with a diplomatic note to the United States conveyed by Poland.

Mr. Boucher said the United States would monitor the situation to confirm the change in Iraqi policy and respond "as appropriate" through the Polish channel.

Poland acts as the "protecting power" for U.S. interests in Iraq in the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad. Pakistan performs the same function with regard to Iraqi interests in the United States.