USIS Washington 

01 February 1999


(By Samuel R. Berger) (880)

(Mr. Berger is the President's National Security Advisor. The
following op-ed column by him appeared in The Washington Post January

(begin text)

The Post's Jan. 17 editorial "Rewarding Saddam Hussein" endorsed the
administration's policy of containing Iraq and our continued readiness
to back that policy with force. Unfortunately, it also misconstrued
important elements of our approach to sanctions on Iraq. The confusion
was compounded by a Jan. 25 op-ed by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Both took issue with what the editorial referred to -- incompletely --
as an administration statement offering "to eliminate the ceiling on
how much oil Iraq is permitted to sell." The second half of that
statement -- which the editorial omitted -- read: "to finance the
purchase of food and medicine for the Iraqi people."

Under the U.S. proposal, Iraq could pump as much oil as is needed to
meet humanitarian needs. All the revenue would go directly to a U.N.
escrow account, as it does now. From that account, checks would be
written -- directly to the contractor -- to buy food, medicine and
other humanitarian supplies, as well as parts for equipment that we
know is being used to pump oil for this program. These supplies then
would be distributed under U.N. supervision. Saddam would never see a

The Post and Sen. Murkowski also asserted that our proposal to
increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Iraq is no different from
proposals to lift sanctions. In fact, it is in direct opposition to

If sanctions were lifted, the international community no longer could
determine how Iraq's oil revenues are spent. The oil-for-food program
would have to be disbanded, not expanded. Billions of dollars now
reserved for the basic needs of the Iraqi people would become
available to Saddam to use as he pleased. The amount of food and
medicine flowing into Iraq most likely would decline.

In contrast, under the current program, we prevent Saddam from
spending his nation's most valuable treasure on what he cares about
most -- rebuilding his military arsenal -- and force him to spend it
on what he cares about least -- the people of Iraq. From Saddam's
point of view, that makes the program part of the sanctions regime.

Indeed, Saddam already has rejected our initiative to expand it. He
knows that every drop of oil sold to feed the Iraqi people is a drop
of oil that will never be sold to feed his war machine. Oil for food
means no oil for tanks.

Saddam's intent is clear: He is cynically trying to exploit the
suffering of his people -- for which he is responsible -- to gain
sympathy for his cause and to create a rift in the international
coalition arrayed against him. In this way, he hopes to build support
for ending sanctions so that he can resume his effort to acquire
weapons of mass destruction.

But he is failing. In recent weeks, opinion has hardened against
Saddam in Arab countries. On Sunday, the Arab League called on Iraq to
stop provoking its neighbors and to comply with U.N. resolutions.
Newspapers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have called for Saddam's ouster.
But there remains strong public sympathy for the Iraqi people.

The effect of our policy is to make clear that the source of hunger
and sickness in Iraq is not sanctions but Saddam. After the Gulf War
ended, the United States made certain that food and medicine would
never be subject to sanctions. Saddam always has been free to import
them. When he refused to do so, the United States took the lead in
proposing that Iraq be allowed to sell controlled quantities of its
oil in order to purchase humanitarian supplies. Remarkably, until
1996, Saddam refused to do even that.

Currently, the United Nations allows Iraq to spend up to $5.2 billion
in oil revenue every six months for humanitarian purposes. Saddam is
so indifferent to the suffering of his people that he still refuses to
make full use of this allowance. But the food supply in Iraq has
grown, and soon will provide the average Iraqi with about 2,200
calories per day, which is at the top of the United Nations'
recommended range.

To leave no doubt about who is responsible for the suffering of Iraq's
people, we are willing to lift the $5.2 billion ceiling to allow Iraq
-- under strict supervision -- to use as much oil revenue as is
necessary to meet humanitarian needs. In the meantime, we will
continue to enforce sanctions against Iraq and remain prepared to take
action against any oil facilities being used to circumvent them.

Critics of this effort imply we should starve Iraq into submission.
They forget that starving Iraq is Saddam's strategy. The oil-for-food
program helps us to thwart it.

The program does not reward Saddam; it further restrains him, while
relieving the suffering of ordinary Iraqis. It has helped to deepen
Saddam's isolation, and it will remain a logical part of our strategy
against him and the threat he poses.

(The writer is the President's National Security Advisor.)

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