Iraq shut down its oil pipeline to Turkey on Friday and said it would not export any more fuel until the United Nations approves a plan for distributing food bought with oil revenues.
The action came a day after the start of the third round of the U.N.-approved oil-for-food program, which is subject to renewal every six months. The halt appeared to be an attempt to draw attention to what it considers inequities in the program and to step up pressure on the United Nations to help speed up food deliveries intended for its impoverished citizens.
The Foreign Ministry said the decision to stop pumping oil was the result of faulty implementation of the oil-for-food program during the first two rounds, saying the United States had impeded the approval of contracts to purchase goods, the official Iraqi News Agency said.
“Iraq does not accept the continuation of this situation, which is unbalanced and forced by the United States on the Security Council by pressure, blackmail and lies,” a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.
In Washington, President Clinton returned the volley, accusing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of trying to divert international attention from the consequences of his own misrule.
“He is in no position to point the finger at anyone else in the world for the suffering of his own people,” Clinton told reporters at the White House.
“This is about some other way that he can manipulate the feelings of people beyond the borders of Iraq, even if he has to let innocent children die to do it so he can continue to pursue a weapons-of-mass-destruction program.”
The Iraqi government is in charge of distributing aid in most of the country, while the United Nations does so in the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north. Each new round of the oil-for-food program requires Iraq to submit its distribution plan for U.N. approval.
Iraq is expected to submit its new plan in January. It accuses the United States of using its power in the U.N. Sanctions Committee for political reasons, a charge Washington denies.
The program allows Iraq to sell more than $2 billion worth of oil every six months to buy food, medicines and other humanitarian goods.
Iraq has been under strict economic sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council says it will lift the sanctions when weapons experts certify that Saddam has destroyed his weapons of mass destruction.