28 April 1998

Press Briefing



Iraq was very disappointed with the results of yesterday's Security Council meetings, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this morning by that country's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Said Al-Sahaf, and its Minister of Oil, General Amir Rasheed. The Iraqi people continued to suffer under the imposition of sanctions, despite the fact that Iraq had complied with the provisions of relevant Security Council resolutions, they stressed.

Mr. Al-Sahaf said he had headed the Iraqi delegation to the United Nations to convey Iraq's message to the Council and the Secretary-General, and to present supporting evidence, information, figures and facts. The delegation had reminded the Security Council that Council resolution 687 (1991), set up to oversee the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, had been adopted in 1991, seven years ago, while the ongoing monitoring had been in place for four years, since 1994. All weapons prohibited under resolution 687 had been destroyed by the end of 1991. All related factories and equipment had also been destroyed. The Iraqi people and leadership had expected the sanctions to be lifted long ago.

The people of Iraq had been subject to unprecedented injustice, through the application of a policy of continued starvation, and repeated military assaults, he continued. Despite that fact, Iraq had cooperated with the Security Council and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in the hope that the sanctions would be lifted.

During the crises last November and February, Iraq had held talks with Security Council members and had reacted positively to appeals of the international community, he said. Recently, Iraq had responded to initiatives by the Russian Federation and the Secretary-General. It had done so on the basis that implementation would lead to the lifting of the sanctions.

Allegations that the presidential sites contained prohibited weapons, plants and equipment were false, he said, adding that the United Nations group had entered the sites and found nothing of the sort in them. With that in mind, Iraq had hoped that the Council's discussion this month would lead to the lifting of sanctions, particularly in view of the fact that Iraq had fulfilled all the requirements for so doing.

If Iraq's relations with the Council and the Special Commission were to be based on equity and the proper legal interpretation of resolution 687, the sanctions should be lifted immediately, he said. Statements issued by Iraq's leadership, which included the appeal of the 22 million Iraqi people to lift the sanctions, should be taken seriously.

The result of Security Council negotiations yesterday were very disappointing, he said. A vicious circle was being perpetuated by lies and

allegations which only two Council members, the United States and the United Kingdom, supported. Iraq would continue to make efforts to contact the members of the Security Council, and it would continue to strive to provide more facts and figures to the international community in order to break that vicious circle.

Asked about other responses during the Council's consultations, the Foreign Minister complimented the position taken by several members, despite the fact that no positive results had been achieved. Many good questions had been asked, he said, but no real answers received. Members had expressed their support for lifting the sanctions, but unfortunately, as everybody knew, the Council was imbalanced and two countries dominated its work.

Was it still in Iraq's interest to continue to cooperate with the Special Commission? a correspondent asked. Mr. Al-Sahaf responded that resolution 687, like a contract, stipulated obligations to be honoured and met by both Iraq and by the Security Council. While Iraq had fulfilled its responsibilities, the Council had for years been prevented from implementing its responsibilities by the United States and the United Kingdom. That fact was illustrated by the fact that the United States' representative had threatened to exercise his veto power if anyone suggested lifting the sanctions.

A correspondent said the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified some of Iraq's contentions, especially regarding its nuclear programme, and that the United States delegation was attempting -- albeit unsuccessfully -- to stave off acknowledging the report's findings until October. Mr. Al-Sahaf said he had not dwelt on the issue because it was so clear. The nuclear file had been closed for some time. The other files, too, had all been completed. The Russian Federation had prepared a draft resolution to close Iraq's nuclear file by transferring it from the disarmament area to the ongoing monitoring and verification area.

Iraq was demanding a lifting of the sanctions and implementation of paragraph 22 of resolution 687, he said. It was not a matter of only closing one file. That was a good step, but the real target was implementation of paragraph 22 of resolution 687. [Paragraph 22 of resolution 687 (1991) ties Iraq's actions with respect to the removal of its proscribed weapons to the removal of the prohibitions against the import of commodities and products originating in Iraq and the financial transactions related thereto set forth in resolution 661 (1990).]

A correspondent drew attention to several developments: the Council had met under the Arria formula to hear the Iraqi point of view; it had decided to resume reviewing sanctions every two months; and the United States' representative had recognized progress. Did Iraq consider those developments to be positive, and how would it build on them from now to October? [The

Iraq Press Conference - 3 - 28 April 1998

Arria formula is an informal consultation process, initiated by Diego Arria of Venezuela, which affords members of the Security Council the opportunity to hear persons in a confidential informal setting. The meetings are presided over by a member of the Council serving as facilitator for the discussions, and not by the Council President.]

It was important to ask why Iraq had for years been prevented from exercising its right to meet with the Council under the Arria formula, Mr. Al- Sahaf said. The Council was dealing with issues of concern to Iraq, yet it prevented the country from sending its representative to provide it with information. Iraq had been prevented from benefiting from the Arria formula because certain parties had sought to monopolize the Council and present allegations, lies and twisted information in order to distort its view and prevent it from lifting sanctions.

Now that the Council was allowing the Iraqi delegation to participate through the use of the Arria formula -- a practice he hoped would be repeated -- the United States was threatening to use the veto power if any suggestion on lifting sanctions was put on the table, he continued. There were threats that the veto might be used on the Russian Federation's draft resolution regarding the nuclear file. If there was any justice in the Security Council, there should be an immediate end to the sanctions, he added.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Israel, could the Foreign Minister assure Israeli citizens that Iraq would not attack them, as it had in the past, with non-conventional missiles, or chemical or biological weapons? a correspondent asked.

"I resent that question", Mr. Al-Sahaf answered.

The Iraqi Government had requested technical evaluation meetings with experts from a number of countries whose governments were sympathetic to Iraq, a correspondent recalled. Reports from those meetings had indicated that Iraq had failed to provide adequate information, and in some cases, Iraqi officials had challenged the experts' qualifications. Given that no other member of the Council was calling for an immediate lifting of the sanctions, why should the United States and the United Kingdom support lifting the sanctions when those technical evaluation meetings had not provided any more answers? he asked.

The problem was that the adversary was the judge, the Foreign Minister replied. The adversary was to determine whether Iraq's responsibilities had been met. If the Council was to be neutral, those false experts should be changed and instead, people who were not under the United States' control should be appointed. Those who were to determine whether Iraq had complied with the Council's resolution were serving the United States policy, rather than the United Nations aim for a disarmament process in Iraq.

Iraq Press Conference - 4 - 28 April 1998

Asked whether Iraq perceived UNSCOM leadership to have controlled the conclusions of the outside experts at the technical evaluation meetings, the Foreign Minister said the answer was yes.

Since the sanctions had not been lifted, was Iraq now willing to consider more fully the idea of agreeing to expanding the oil-for-food deal? a correspondent asked. [The oil-for-food programme was established by the Council in April 1995, by its resolution 986 (1995), allowing Iraq to sell oil to pay for the acquisition and distribution of humanitarian goods.] That programme had nothing to do with implementing paragraph 22 of resolution 687, the Foreign Minister said. The moment the Council took a decision regarding the implementation of that paragraph, the oil-for-food programme, which was temporary, would come to an end.

A correspondent asked whether progress had been made on the exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) with Kuwait. The Foreign Minister said there were no POWs in Iraq, only missing persons. The Kuwaitis officially admitted, except in propaganda, that the work of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as their supporters and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was to account for missing persons, both Kuwaiti and Iraqi. The Committee's mission was to obtain information about the fate of Kuwaitis and Iraqis, and its work continued.

Did the Foreign Minister foresee a time when sanctions would be lifted? a correspondent asked. That question should be directed at the Security Council, he replied, and expressed interest in hearing the response.

Turning to the Memorandum of Understanding achieved between Iraq and the United Nations on special procedures for the inspection of eight presidential sites, a correspondent asked whether Iraq interpreted the document to mean that UNSCOM, accompanied by diplomats, had the right to continue searches of the presidential sites as it saw fit.

Mr. Al-Sahaf said the agreement did not say UNSCOM was to be accompanied by any other party. Rather, it referred to a special group, headed by a Special Representative of the Secretary-General and consisting of diplomats and experts selected by the Secretary-General from the IAEA and UNSCOM.

The United States, United Kingdom and others had shamelessly alleged that in eight presidential sites, the Iraqis were hiding chemical weapons, biological weapons, equipment and machines, he continued. They had threatened Iraq with military aggression if access to those sites was not granted. The Memorandum had been reached in light of the fact that a special arrangement was needed to verify whether those allegations had meaning or were baseless.

The agreement had indicated that an initial visit would be made and if that did not suffice, there would be subsequent visits, he continued. The

Iraq Press Conference - 5 - 28 April 1998

initial visit had taken place, and nothing had been found except that the American and British allegations were false. If the need arose, there would perhaps be a subsequent visit. The special group would not "go for a picnic"; at the same time, it would not go under normal disarmament procedures. Rather, the special arrangement would be followed until the United Nations was convinced that the allegations of the United States and the United Kingdom were baseless.

A correspondent said that during the Council's meeting yesterday, neither France, Russian Federation nor China had asked for the sanctions to be lifted, and none had stated that Iraq had complied with all its obligations. Mr. Al-Sahaf said that to the best of his knowledge, those countries were pushing for the sanctions to be lifted.

Was Iraq considering retaliatory action now that the Security Council had ignored its warnings and decided to continue with the sanctions? a correspondent asked. Iraq had been working with the Council since 1991, Mr. Al-Sahaf said. It was not a matter of retaliation, it was a process. Iraq was continuing to work with the Council and demanding its rights.

A correspondent asked whether the Foreign Minister was saying that the situation indicated a "policy of revenge" by which the United States was preventing the sanctions from being lifted. The Foreign Minister said the events could be described in many ways; the two countries were insisting on continuing the genocide against Iraq.

The Secretary-General had said repeatedly that the Memorandum of Understanding did not place limits on the number of inspections or the amount of time for those inspections, a correspondent said. The Secretary-General never said that, Mr. Al-Sahaf stated, adding that there were two parts to the Memorandum. First, the text emphasized Iraq's cooperation regarding the work on disarmament with UNSCOM and the IAEA. Second, a special arrangement pertained to the presidential sites, which was governed by the terms "initial" and "subsequent" visits. The term "unlimited" concerned the usual disarmament work, which took place in any area and had begun years ago. The term did not apply to the presidential sites.

The correspondent said the Foreign Minister's explanation contradicted that of the Secretary-General. Mr. Al-Sahaf said it did not and that Iraq was in full agreement with the Secretary-General.

The Minister of Oil added that the Memorandum's objective was to determine whether Iraq possessed prohibited material or prohibited activity, as had been alleged. The Memorandum established a mechanism by which such information could be obtained. With the initial visit, it had been made clear that the allegations were fallacies. It was possible that another visit might be needed.

Iraq Press Conference - 6 - 28 April 1998

Had Mr. Rasheed been misquoted by the Deputy Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Deulfer, or had he really said he expected there would be an end to the process within a set time-frame? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Rasheed said that since even facts supported by empirical evidence were being manipulated, imagine the extent to which statements were twisted. A whole day could be spent discussing twisted statements and changed facts regarding UNSCOM.

Had anyone suggested a need for follow-up visits to the presidential sites, and from whom would such a request be accepted? a correspondent asked. No such request had been received, Mr. Al-Sahaf said. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, the Secretary-General would decide whether there would be a subsequent visit. Asked whether the special group would notify Iraq of a pending visit, he said yes, for logistical reasons, but it would not indicate locations.

Asked when the new regime under the raised ceiling of oil exports allowed under the oil-for-food programme would begin, Mr. Rasheed said that first the Secretary-General had to agree to Iraq's distribution plan. According to his understanding, Baghdad would be finalizing that plan in the next few days. Also, spare parts and material were needed for the oil sector; that too had to be approved and finalized. The matter was currently under discussion by the 661 Committee, set up under Security Council resolution 661 (1990) to monitor the implementation of sanctions against Iraq. He hoped it would be approved by next week and sent to the Security Council. It was difficult to calculate the time, but both processes would probably be concluded in three weeks or less. Iraq would then be ready to export the additional amounts of oil, according to its capacity.

How many more six-month plans would there be? a correspondent asked. The Foreign Minister replied that they were temporary measures, which would be stopped the moment the Council implemented paragraph 22 of resolution 687.

What was Iraq's position on the Russian Federation's push to close the nuclear file and transition into long-term monitoring? What was the difference between on-going monitoring and inspection? a correspondent asked. Mr. Al-Sahaf said that efforts should be focused on closing all four files, since all the requirements had been met. Closing the nuclear file was a small step and should be taken within the framework of implementing paragraph 22. The ongoing monitoring and verification regime, which had been up and running since 1994, was defined in Council resolution 715 (1991).

When the stage of ongoing monitoring had been reached, sanctions were to be lifted, he continued. While some were determined to finalize the disarmament area, they had already started ongoing monitoring, which meant

Iraq Press Conference - 7 - 28 April 1998

that the disarmament process had finished, paragraph 22 had been implemented and ongoing monitoring was now in place.

Mr. Rasheed added that disarmament required identification and destruction of prohibited weapons and material. That phase had finished for all the files. Transference to ongoing monitoring and verification had started in 1994.

A correspondent asked for the Foreign Minister's view on a project by Americares, a humanitarian group in the United States, to bring $2 million worth of donated medical and nutritional supplies to Iraq. Mr. Al-Sahaf said that Iraq greatly appreciated that effort, and viewed participating bodies with deep respect. Asked whether the fact that the Clinton Administration had cleared the project indicated its concern for the Iraqi people, the Foreign Minister said he did not think so. The project was a popular movement; it had nothing to do with the Administration.

Asked to characterize the mood of the United States and the United Kingdom during yesterday's Arria consultations, Mr. Al-Sahaf said those delegations were working against any move towards lifting the sanctions. Their comments that progress had been made were hypocritical and sought to deceive public opinion.

* *** *