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U.S. tempts Iraq with possible aid increase

Nov. 18, 1997

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The United States suggested Monday that U.N.-approved humanitarian aid for Iraq might be increased if President Saddam Hussein permits the return of U.S. weapons inspectors. An Iraqi official quickly branded the proposal a 'no-starter.'

Though still in the exploratory phase, the initiative suggested a fresh American effort to resolve the three-week impasse with Iraq without the use of force.

At the same time, President Clinton emphasized that diplomatic efforts to return the inspectors to Iraq 'must be backed by our strong military capability.'

'It is essential that those inspectors go back to work,' he said in Wichita, Kan. 'The safety of the children of the world depends upon it.'

U.N. teams of inspectors had been monitoring Iraqi compliance with orders that it destroy its weapons of mass destruction. But the United Nations pulled the inspectors out last week, after Iraq refused to rescind an order expelling Americans on the teams.

The U.S. proposal to increase aid in exchange for a return of the inspectors was described by an official accompanying Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pakistan as 'a little carrot' for Saddam, providing an incentive for him to end the standoff and help his people at the same time.

The British and French have been consulted, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.

The Press Association, a British news agency, said the initiative clarifies what Iraq has to do to get the sanctions lifted.

'We want to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that if they do a range of specific things then the Security Council can start to look at lifting sanctions,' a Foreign Office official told the news agency.

Even as the Clinton administration floated the idea, officials emphasized they weren't talking about bargaining.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William Cohen said of Saddam,

``There should be no such trading for any carrots in order to get

his compliance. ... We are not seeking any deal in order to insist

that he comply with his obligations.''

Iraq has been the target of a U.N. economic embargo since 1990,

but a loophole was created three years ago under which Iraq is

permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months.

Under a carefully monitored program, the revenues are used to

provide food and medicine to the Iraqi people.

The U.S. official said the $2 billion ceiling could be increased

as part of the proposed sweetener for Iraq. Also, he said the

definition of humanitarian aid could be expanded to include items

beyond food and medicine.

In New York, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, called the

proposal a ``no-starter.''

He said Iraq wants guarantees that the sanctions ``will be

lifted soon because we think that Iraq is eligible for the lifting

of the embargo.''

The administration proposal is one of a series of diplomatic

initiatives in recent days aimed at seeking a way out of the

three-week old Gulf impasse. Iraq, for its part, has softened its

insistence that Americans be excluded from weapons inspection

teams.

The United States, meanwhile, has been encouraging Russia and

France to use their influence with Saddam to try to persuade him to

comply with Security Council resolutions demanding the

unconditional return of the weapons inspectors.

Any French-Russian diplomatic approach to Saddam could be more

credible if it included an incentive for him _ such as the promise

of expanded humanitarian assistance.

The proposal also could weaken the argument of Saddam's friends

internationally that the sanctions should be lifted altogether

because of the suffering they cause the Iraqi people.

Clinton conferred by phone Monday with Egyptian President Hosni

Mubarak and U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan. White House spokesman Joe

Lockhart said Mubarak was ``committed to doing all he could,

including sending a clear message to the Iraqis that they must

comply with U.N. resolutions.''

Albright arrived in Pakistan from Saudi Arabia, where she

received an endorsement of the basic outlines of U.S. policy toward

the Gulf. But Saudi officials refused to say explicitly that they

favor the use of force if Saddam refuses to back down.

France, Russia and some other countries have gone further,

rejecting the idea of military action as a solution to the current

situation. That has added pressure on Washington to seek a peaceful

solution.

The administration appears intent on getting the U.N. weapons

teams back into Iraq without the Iraqis dictating their membership.

In Bahrain on Sunday, Albright met with some U.N. inspectors,

who told her Iraq was trying to develop a nerve gas called VX, a

few ounces of which are said to be capable of carrying out killings

on a mass scale.

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