U.S. Wants to Clamp Down on Iraq Imports

Concerned that Saddam Hussein may be trying to buy equipment for war, the United States wants to add additional items such as communications equipment and nerve gas antidotes to a U.N. list of goods which cannot be automatically imported by Iraq.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the additions were meant to ensure that the U.N. oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to use oil revenues to purchase humanitarian goods, "is not exploited or utilized in any way by the government of Iraq to import items for military purposes."

The U.S. effort to expand the list angered Security Council allies who sought to renew the humanitarian program Monday for an additional six months. Instead council members voted to extend it just until Dec. 4 to give them time to negotiate.

But Negroponte said the United States could not agree to a six-month extension until the council revises the list of items which Iraq cannot purchase without U.N. approval.

New additions would include atropine injectors and atropine, an antidote used in the event of exposure to nerve agents, as well as jammers, radio intercepts and global positioning equipment, he said. Western diplomats said the Pentagon also wants to add the antibiotic Cipro, which is used to combat anthrax and smallpox.

Two weeks ago, administration officials said Iraq spent the last two years importing significant quantities of atropine and obidoxime chloride, used to counter the effects of certain chemical weapons.

Under U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq is allowed to use its oil revenues to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. However, items with possible military applications must be reviewed by the Security Council's sanctions committee.

The list of dual-use items includes everything from high-speed computers to heavy-duty trucks and was drafted by the Bush administration in May 2001. Any item on the list must be approved by the sanctions panel before it can be imported by Iraq.

Security Council experts had reached broad agreement late Friday on a draft resolution that would extend the humanitarian program for six months and review the list within 90 days.

But Negroponte said the United States wanted a maximum 90-day extension and review — but much of the council objected because it would run out in February, a time many military analysts say is optimal for an attack on Iraq.

Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby, who chairs the sanctions committee on Iraq, said he "was surprised" that disputes over the timetable and oil pricing — which determines how much cash the Iraqis have to spend — had come up at the last minute.

Sanctions cannot be lifted until weapons inspectors declare Iraq free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Monday he warned Iraq that it must provide convincing evidence if it maintains — as it did last week — that it has no such weapons programs.

Iraqi officials said they intend to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors who will resume work on Wednesday after nearly four years, Blix told the U.N. Security Council.

But on the critical issue of access, Iraqi officials remarked during talks last week in Baghdad "that the entry into a presidential site or a ministry was not exactly the same thing as entry into a factory," Blix said, according to his briefing notes.

The resolution allows inspectors to go anywhere at anytime, including presidential sites, and Blix said he stressed this point to the Iraqis and told them his teams would exercise this right. "We said we would inspect all sites on an equal basis," he told a news conference afterward.

Blix said he would have 100 inspectors on the ground by Christmas and the first of eight helicopters in Baghdad by the end of the week. He also wants to open a field office in the northern city of Mosul "without delay."

Blix told the council that the Iraqis had expressed "some uncertainty," about how it should prepare a declaration of all nuclear, chemical and biological programs which it must provide to the council and inspectors by Dec. 8.

"Clearly, the most important thing was that whatever there existed by way of weapons programs and proscribed items should be fully declared," Blix said he told the Iraqis.

"If the Iraqi side were to state — as it still did at our meeting — that there were no such programs, it would need to provide convincing documentary or other evidence," Blix said.