Iraq Says Oil Remains Option to Combat Sanctions

August 21, 2001 - 0:0
BAGHDAD Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said on Sunday Baghdad reserved the right to use oil as an instrument to try to lift UN sanctions.

"We are using all the means at our disposal to defend our people and dignity. If we use economic power to serve our own legitimate interest, then this is legal and noble," Sabri, who was appointed earlier this month, told Reuters.

His statement follows an article last week in the influential **** Babel **** newspaper, owned by President Saddam Hussein's son Uday, arguing that Iraq should stop awarding long-term and large-volume oil contracts at least until November, when the current "oil-for-food" program expires.

Iraq halted its UN-administered oil exports in June for a month in protest against a U.S. and British proposal to revamp the 11-year-old trade sanctions to target the Iraqi administration more narrowly.

Sanctions were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Publication of **** Babel****'s article has kept the oil market guessing whether Iraq's UN-approved exports of 2.2 million barrels a day will continue to flow smoothly.

Sabri, a former journalist who oversaw the foreign media during the Persian Gulf War, did not rule out normal oil production under the UN program.

"We want a lifting of sanctions. We agreed on this memorandum of understanding (oil-for-food) as a temporary arrangement," Sabri said at his Baghdad office.

He said Iraq's policy of seeking international support to bust the sanctions that had destroyed its economy was working, with more countries trading normally with Baghdad.

"These sanctions were imposed to achieve unlawful and illegal designs by the United States and Britain against Iraq.

"It is wearing thin. Who is supporting them in the Arab world? Only two regimes that are attached and controlled by American embassies in Riyadh and Kuwait," he said in reference to the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The minister said Iraq had no knowledge of press reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is on a visit to Kuwait, was attempting to mend relations between Iraq and the country it invaded in 1990.

Iraq had not been contacted by Syria in this regard, he added, and laid down Iraq's own conditions for a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. "They should stop their contribution to armed aggression against Iraq, stop putting their bases at the disposal of American and British planes and stop financing this war," Sabri said.

Western planes police "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq from bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The West set up the enclaves to protect the areas' Kurdish and Shiite populations from what Washington describes as a threat of attack from Iraqi forces.

"We pose no threat to anybody," Sabri said.