November 18, 1997 in Nation/World

U.S., Iraq Reject Other’s Offer Iraq Turns Down Oil-For-Food Increase, U.S. Nixes Limit On Weapons Inspectors

Houston Chronicle

Threats of military action against Iraq took a back seat Monday to intensified diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the standoff over Saddam Hussein’s decision to expel American members of U.N. weapons inspection teams.

Administration officials said the United States is ready to permit Iraq to increase the amount of oil it sells on the international market and expand the scope of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods purchased with the proceeds.

Iraq is currently allowed to sell about $2 billion worth of oil every six months. Under the U.S. proposal, the sales would be boosted to at least $3 billion every six months.

“We are prepared to consider minor modifications to the oil-for-food program if (Iraq) comes back into compliance,” a senior U.S. official told reporters traveling to Pakistan with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Washington officials confirmed the proposal, saying that Britain, France and Russia had also signed off on it as “a carrot vs. a stick approach,” as one White House official put it.

Iraq’s initial response was negative, with U.N. Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon telling reporters in New York the oil-for-food proposal was a “no-starter in trying to resolve the current crisis.”

However, there were signs from the Iraqis that they were prepared to consider diplomatic avenues to resolve the crisis.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview with a French newspaper that Saddam, the Iraqi president, would allow U.N. inspection teams back into Iraq if the number of Amercians is reduced or if other nations place as many representatives on the teams as the United States.

That idea was rejected by the Clinton administration.

“It’s not up to Iraq to determine the composition of U.N. inspection teams. It’s up to the U.N. to determine that, so whatever feelings Iraq has are immaterial,” White House spokesman Mike McCurry said.

Despite the diplomatic maneuvering, administration officials stressed that the United States plans to continue its military buildup in the Persian Gulf region.

President Clinton, in a speech in Wichita, Kan., said that he was “trying to settle this issue peacefully,” but stressed that “diplomatic efforts must be backed by our strong military capability. We cannot rule out any options.”

It was the first time the president directly broached the subject of a military force since Saddam ousted six Americans serving on a U.N. weapons inspection team last week. The United Nations withdrew almost all team members rather than allow Saddam to dictate its personnel.

Clinton sought to build public support for possible military action by calling attention to Saddam’s ability to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

He explained that U.N. inspectors since the Persian Gulf War have uncovered and destroyed more chemical and biological weapons potential than the U.S.-led military alliance wiped out during the 1991 conflict itself.

“What they (inspectors) are doing matters. It matters to you and your children and to the future because this is the challenge we must face not just in Iraq but throughout the world,” Clinton said.

Defense Secretary William Cohen took an even harder line against Saddam, saying bargaining with the Iraqi leader is out of the question.

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