Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Powell softens language about Iraq

February 15, 2001


— Using rhetoric that differed sharply from the confrontational language of the Bush campaign, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that the United States was satisfied with existing United Nations sanctions imposed on Baghdad and voiced hope that America's longtime adversary could be coaxed back into the "world community."

Emerging from his first meeting as secretary of state with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Powell said the Bush administration would press Iraq to comply with international demands for a resumption of arms inspections. But missing from his remarks was any hint of the tougher stance toward Iraq touted by President Bush during the campaign and by senior administration officials in recent weeks.

Instead Powell expressed hope that upcoming talks between Annan and senior Iraqi officials would yield progress on arms inspections and flow of food and medicine to needy Iraqi people. Annan is to meet in New York Feb. 26-27 with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf in talks aimed at convincing Iraq to comply with U.N. demands, compliance that could lead to a lifting of economic sanctions.

"I think talks can always be useful," Powell said. "I hope that the Iraqi representative comes with new information that will show their willingness and desire to comply with the U.N. resolutions and become a progressive ember of the world community again."

Where much of the Bush administration rhetoric up to now has been critical of the Clinton administration line on Iraq and suggested a new, harder line, Powell indicated no shift in U.S. policy toward seeking still more sanctions.

"When it comes to our role as a member of the (U.N.) Security Council, we obviously are bound by UN resolutions and we're not trying to modify those," Powell said.

Two factors are contributing to Powell's measured words.

Powell will travel to the Mideast and Persian Gulf regions at the end of the month for talks with, among others, leaders in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These moderate Arab states, though not on friendly terms with Baghdad, have expressed increasing concern that the U.S. hard line on Iraq is serving no purpose other than to cause harm to the Iraqi people.

The second factor is the political reality within the Security Council. Several key members, particularly France, Russia and China, have been openly critical of the sanctions regime and have pressed for an easing of restrictions on Iraq.

By expressing no desire to seek tougher sanctions, Powell may be simply recognizing the impossibility of convincing Security Council members, especially those permanent members possessing the veto power, to go along.

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