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C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs
Beth Jones, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee
Washington, DC, March 23, 2000

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"U.S. Policy Toward Iraq"

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to discuss U.S. policy toward Iraq. I shall open with a brief statement on behalf of us both. As Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, I deal primarily with aspects of Iraq policy that involve the Security Council. This includes the oil-for-food program and UNMOVIC. My colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jones, represents the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, which manages overall policy toward Iraq. This includes the over-arching policy of containment and our efforts to foster regime change by supporting the Iraqi opposition.

We will be glad to address questions on any aspect of U.S. policy toward Iraq, but I will focus in these introductory remarks primarily on two areas:

First, the humanitarian situation in the country, including the balance between the impact of sanctions and the benefits of the oil-for-food program;

Second, a few words on what we expect from UNMOVIC over the next few months.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is a complex subject, and we are concerned that the recent flow of misinformation and biased assertions from various sources has made it difficult to maintain sight of what U.S. policy really is and what really is happening on the ground in Iraq. I hope we can provide some clarification today.

U.S. policy toward Iraq has followed a consistent course since the liberation of Kuwait in January 1991; and whatever you might have read in the papers lately, there is no sea-change in the offing. Our policy is based on the objective judgment that the regime of Saddam Hussein poses a continuing threat to regional peace and security, which must be contained. And, again, despite what you might have seen in the press, containment remains a cost-effective and successful policy. UN sanctions are extremely important and must continue until Iraq complies with its obligations under the Security Council resolutions.

Let me state, for the record, that we do not expect Iraq to meet that standard anytime soon. In fact, we doubt that Iraq will take the sensible steps necessary to obtain the lifting, or the suspension, of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.

Those sanctions do not target the civilian population, however, and in fact have never restricted the importation of basic medicines and food. Moreover, the United States has focused on addressing humanitarian needs in Iraq since the immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when brutal military repression displaced tens of thousands of civilians in northern Iraq. We responded with Operation Provide Comfort, an U.S.-led coalition effort that provided food, shelter and other forms of disaster assistance on a massive scale.

The coalition also instituted a no-fly zone in the north in 1991, and another in southern Iraq in 1992. That policy has contained the Iraqi military and prevented any repetition of large-scale use of force against civilians.

In the Security Council, we have championed the humanitarian interests of the Iraqi people and continue to do so today. Let me cite a few examples:

In April 1991, we helped shape Security Council resolution 688, which demanded an end to Iraqi repression of civilians and provided part of the rationale for the no-fly zones.

In August 1991 we played a leading role in drafting resolution 706, which included the original oil-for-food program -- a program Iraq promptly rejected.

In May 1995 we co-sponsored resolution 986, which expanded and fleshed out the oil-for-food concept. You will recall the tragically slow evolution of that concept: Iraq rejected it outright for four years, and then slow-rolled it for another year and a half, so that the first delivery of humanitarian goods did not occur until March 1997. Some critics are attempting now to portray oil-for-food as part of the humanitarian problem in Iraq. In fact, it is a solution whose implementation was long delayed by the Iraqi regime, and whose full potential is only now being approached.

In February 1998 we supported resolution 1153, which expanded the program to $5.2 billion in oil export revenues during each six-month phase.

In December 1999 we supported resolution 1284, which removed the ceiling on the value of oil exports authorized to meet humanitarian needs in Iraq. That resolution also included numerous provisions to improve the efficiency of oil-for-food.

I want to emphasize that the need to balance the impact of sanctions and the benefits of the oil-for-food program is not a new challenge for U.S. policy. Sanctions were imposed for valid reasons, have been in place for nine and a half years, and are likely to continue for some time. Oil-for-food has been in place almost exactly three years, during which oil prices have fluctuated and the program itself has been constantly reassessed and adjusted. That process of assessment and adjustment is ongoing, as reflected in resolution 1284, and will certainly continue.

Sanctions are not aimed at the Iraqi people, and the bottom line is this: we believe that oil-for-food, properly managed, can effectively mitigate the impact of sanctions on Iraq's civilian population for as long as sanctions on the Iraqi regime remain in effect. Success will require the UN to do the best possible job of administering the program. Similarly, Iraq will have to be pressed to do its part -- cooperating with the program rather than seeking to discredit it, to circumvent it, and eventually to eliminate it. Maintaining the proper balance will never be easy; but we believe it is an achievable result, and certainly a result worth the utmost effort over the long haul.

Criticism of sanctions is understandable, but we believe much of the recent criticism has been misplaced. In particular, those who see negative consequences from sanctions and advocate lifting sanctions as the only solution overlook at least three important points:

First, the regime headed by Saddam Hussein is among the most brutal and systematic violators of human rights on the face of the earth. The most recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights noted that the gravity of the human rights situation in Iraq has few parallels since the end of World War II.

Second, sanctions deprive Saddam Hussein of the financial wherewithal to pursue his manifest goal of acquiring, and using, weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Saddam deploying WMD would be the worst imaginable humanitarian outcome for the Iraqi people and for all the peoples of the region.

Third, lifting sanctions would enable Saddam to rebuild his military and put his WMD programs on the fast-track, but would not guarantee a better life for the average Iraqi. On the contrary, conditions for many Iraqis -- especially in the north -- would deteriorate dramatically if oil-for-food and the UN presence disappeared.

Providing resources to Saddam Hussein would not mean relief for the Iraqi people. Conversely, providing relief to the people is not the same as helping Saddam. Let me explain.

First, Saddam Hussein's perennial spending priority is military development and WMD rather than civilian well being. Lifting sanctions would simply enrich Saddam and enable him to pursue his spending priorities. Therefore, lifting sanctions would not help the Iraqi people.

Second, we also hear criticism from the other side, from those who say oil-for-food is in fact helping Saddam Hussein. Just as providing more resources to the Iraqi regime -- e.g. by lifting sanctions -- would not benefit the Iraqi people, oil-for-food resources provided to the people do not benefit the Iraqi regime. On the contrary, providing humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people is essential to maintaining international support for sanctions on the regime.

Oil-for-food is having a clear and measurable impact on the ground in Iraq. Nutrition has improved. Per capita intake is up from 1,300 calories per day before the program began to over 2,000 now, thanks to a UN ration basket, which is augmented by locally grown food. Food imports are now at about pre-war levels. In the year before the program began, Iraq imported about $50 million worth of medicines. Over the past three years more than $1 billion worth of medicines have been approved. Similarly, over a billion dollars worth of goods for the water, sanitation, electrical and agricultural sectors have been approved.

The impact has been greatest in the three northern provinces, where the UN manages the program without interference from the regime. For example, an UNICEF study last year showed that infant mortality in the north had fallen below pre-war levels. Yet in south/central Iraq, where the Iraqi government handles distribution of oil-for-food goods, the study revealed a disturbing rise in child mortality -- to more than double the pre-war level. These numbers show that oil-for-food can meet the needs of the Iraqi people if the regime's cynical manipulation can be overcome.

Finally, let me say a few words about the U.S. approach to making the oil-for-food program more effective. We have been accused recently of having too many holds, or of having the wrong holds, on contracts proposed under this program. Of course there are those in Baghdad, and in the Security Council, who seem to believe that neither the United States nor any other member of the Iraq Sanctions Committee should put any contract on hold for any reason.

Our goal is to help the oil-for-food program succeed. With that in mind, we want to approve every contract we can and do it as quickly as we can.

But there is another goal which is equally important: to deny Saddam Hussein inputs for his WMD programs. That goal makes a heavy demand on us, as it can mean the painstaking review of each and every contract. We take this responsibility seriously.

Our rigorous and responsible approach has won plaudits from some smaller countries in the UN's Iraq Sanctions Committee -- countries which lack the resources and the expertise which the United States can apply to the process. It has also elicited criticism from some larger members of the Committee which have the resources and expertise, but have chosen to turn a politically, or commercially, blinded eye to possible dual-use items included in oil-for-food contracts. Three Security Council member states have about one-third of all oil-for-food contracts. They orchestrate the complaints about holds, often joined by others who are motivated by commercial gain.

Our holds now involve about 10% of all oil-for-food contracts. The number has mounted over the past year for a variety of reasons. Some contracts lack adequate information, and we are unable to act on them until we receive further details from the submitting companies. More broadly, program revenue has grown as oil prices have risen over the past year, and the accelerating flow of incoming contract and crowded our review pipeline. However, we believe our holds have had a minimal impact on the humanitarian bottom line to date.

Nonetheless, while we must be vigilant, we must also strike a balance with legitimate humanitarian concerns. We are currently examining our contract review procedures to ensure that they appropriately reflect our twin priorities: maximizing assistance to the Iraqi people while denying the Iraqi regime access to goods it could use to reconstitute its WMD programs. We are also seeking to enhance the UN's capacity to monitor potentially sensitive items -- such as electricity generating equipment or water purification plants -- to ensure that such items, once approved, are installed in the approved location and used for the approved purpose.

A major portion of resolution 1284 deals with the creation of UNMOVIC -- the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission -- as a subsidiary body of the Security Council and successor to UNSCOM. After consultation with Council members, the UN Secretary General appointed Hans Blix to serve as Executive Chairman of the new body.

Robert Einhorn, Assistant Secretary for Non-Proliferation, and I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Blix shortly before he took up his duties on March 1. As former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Blix is fully qualified for the sizeable task he faces, and he has adopted a serious and methodical approach which seems well suited to that task.

Dr. Blix is currently structuring the organization and assembling his staff, and will submit an organizational plan to the Security Council in mid-April. He will then proceed with lining up potential inspectors with the requisite technical expertise to resume inspection and monitoring activities on the ground in Iraq. Baghdad has publicly rejected resolution 1284 and ruled out the return of UN-mandated weapons inspection teams, but that is unlikely to be the final word. Should Iraq reconsider -- as it has on several previous resolutions -- and allow UNMOVIC in, we expect Dr. Blix and his teams to be robust, in carrying out the mission it has inherited from UNSCOM. The United States will, of course, provide all possible support.

We await your questions on any aspect of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

[end of document]

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