Iraq dropped its all-or-nothing stand on the easing of U.N. sanctions Saturday, clearing the way for the renewal of limited exemptions that allow it to buy badly needed food and medicine.
Also Saturday, an American U-2 surveillance plane flew another U.N. mission over Iraq, without interference. Iraq called the flight a violation of its airspace but has yet to try to make good on its threat to shoot down the U-2s.
On the state-run Iraqi News Agency, Iraq’s Information Ministry declared that the government “does not oppose in principle the renewal of the oil-for-food agreement between Iraq and the United Nations.”
The announcement marked an about-face by Iraq.
Earlier this week, Iraqi diplomats were telling reporters in New York that their government was not interested in renewing the 11-month-old program, which allows Iraq to export $2 billion of oil every six months to buy humanitarian supplies.
The diplomats said Iraq sought nothing short of the total lifting of the embargo imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Saturday, however, the Information Ministry said: “Iraq has accepted the oil-for-food deal as a temporary measure, not as an alternative to the complete lifting of sanctions.”
The issue of renewing the exemptions is expected to go to a vote in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. U.N. sources in New York say U.N. staffers in Baghdad are recommending doubling the amount of oil sales allowed.
Saddam Hussein’s government increasingly is stressing the suffering of the Iraqi people under the international embargo in pushing to get the sanctions lifted immediately.
The Security Council insists the sanctions will stand until it is convinced that Saddam has gotten rid of his long-range missiles and programs for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
In Baghdad on Saturday, a man identifying himself as the leader of a Chicago-based charity urged an end to the sanctions. Bert Sacks of Voices in the Wilderness said at a news conference that he and three companions had come to Iraq with $40,000 worth of medicine.
“What we brought is a drop in a bucket … the aim is to publicize that we are violating the sanctions. We think they are wrong and immoral,” Sacks said.
“You can’t use the lives of thousands of people to coerce or intimidate a government,” Sacks told The Associated Press.
Medicine may be imported to Iraq under the U.N. sanctions but Iraq lacks the money to pay for all it needs. Sacks and his colleagues appear to have violated a U.S. travel ban on Americans going to Iraq.
The ban, imposed after the Kuwait invasion, carries a penalty of up to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Iraq’s news agency said U.N. inspectors visited 20 weapons sites Saturday, including eight that were not under the surveillance of U.N. cameras.