20 February 1998
(US strongly supports "oil-for-food" program expansion) (1020) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- The UN Security Council February 20 unanimously agreed to a massive increase in the amount of oil Baghdad can sell in order to buy food and other humanitarian supplies for Iraqi civilians and to help restore clean water and sanitation. The Council accepted the recommendations of Secretary General Kofi Annan to adjust the plan that allows Baghdad to sell oil under strict UN supervision in order to buy needed food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies for Iraqis affected by the seven-year-old economic embargo. Oil sales can now be increased from about $2,000 million to $5,256 million over six months. US Ambassador Peter Burleigh said that the program, which is the largest UN-sanctioned humanitarian program in UN history "is a concrete demonstration that the United Nations, and in particular the members of this Council, remain committed to meeting the essential humanitarian needs of all Iraq's people." The United States is ready to work closely with other Council members to ensure that the resolution works "not for the benefit of the Iraqi regime, but for the welfare of ordinary people in Iraq," said Burleigh, the deputy US Permanent Representative to the UN. That includes significantly expanding UN observation and monitoring of the program. "Unfortunately as long as the Government of Iraq persists in its mistaken belief that it can defy the will of the international community and that of the Council, the sanctions must remain in place. And the United Nations will continue to carry the burden that the Iraqi Government has refused to bear -- caring for the welfare of the people of Iraq," the US Ambassador said. Citing Iraq's history of not cooperating with the UN on the humanitarian plan, Burleigh said, Baghdad's record is "a telling reminder of the Iraqi Government's true attitude toward the plight of its people." Despite Iraqi propaganda, food and medicine are not affected by UN sanctions, British Ambassador Sir John Weston pointed out. After finally accepting the oil-for-food plan almost four years after it was first proposed when it did sell oil, Iraq "used to money to lower by an equivalent amount their own spending on the welfare of the Iraqi people," he said. "The Government of Iraq must accept this resolution so that the people of Iraq can get the help they so desperately need. If it does not, we know exactly who is to blame," Sir John said. The increase in the so-called "oil-for-food" plan comes as the Council is engaged in a showdown with Iraq over the destruction of Iraqi weapons and Annan, himself, is in Baghdad trying to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to allow UN weapons inspectors access to all sites in the country as called for by the gulf war cease-fire resolution. Proposing the increase in oil sales earlier in February Annan said that he hoped Iraq "will turn back from the precipice" and cooperate with the UN on both the weapons inspections and the humanitarian aid program. "I hope that President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leadership will share the concern I am displaying today for the Iraqi population and have the wisdom to take the right decisions," Annan said February 2. The increased oil sales will go into effect after Baghdad submits to the UN an acceptable distribution plan, a description of the goods to be bought and where they will enter the country, and the objectives of the purchases. However, since the Secretary General submitted his recommendations to the Council Iraq has not indicated that it would accept the proposal. Instead Iraqi officials sent a letter outlining lengthy objections to the plan. Annan also said that the UN did not get "the kind of cooperation we had expected from the Iraqi authorities" in preparing the proposal for increased oil sales. According to the new plan, in addition to increasing the amount of food and medicine provided, there is a one-time allocation of funds to repair some sewage systems, dams, and electricity generating plants that directly affect the humanitarian program. "Basically what we are trying to do is to increase the calorie intake of the Iraqi population from 2,000 to 2,460 calories per person a day" along with increasing the amount of medicine, Annan said in his written report to the Council. The new plan provides for programs to help Iraq improve the agriculture output particularly in the areas of poultry and egg production, improving schools for young people, and programs for children at risk, the Secretary General said. "We believe if we do not repair these infrastructure facilities its impact will be to undermine all the good we are trying by bringing in additional supplies," Annan said. "If they don't have clean water to drink it will lead to diseases and more medicine will be required." "If you don't have electricity for refrigeration, for hospital operations, you undermine the effectiveness of these hospitals," he said. According to the resolution between $682 million and $788 million must be used for food and health needs. "Reasonable expenses" related to the Hajj pilgrimage are also to be paid for from the oil sales. In the resolution, which was presented as a presidential text to show the unanimity of the Council, the UN must also work with Iraq to determine if Iraq will be able to pump the increased amount of oil. The Council also asked for an interim review in 90 days. The basic requirements of the original "oil-for-food" plan are still in effect. The proceeds of the oil sales are deposited in a special account and distributed according to a set formula: 30 percent to the Compensation Fund dealing with claims resulting from the invasion of Kuwait; 2 to 4 percent to pay for the UN administration of the oil sales, 6 percent for the Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM), and the remainder for the humanitarian aid.