UNITED NATIONS—Off-road tires and high-speed boats might not seem like the stuff that makes military might. Nor would rust-resistant steel, alloys that are more than 25 percent nickel or flatbed trucks.
But the United States, weighing the possibility of a war to oust Saddam Hussein, is concerned that Iraq could use such seemingly innocuous items to strengthen its armed forces. Up against a tight United Nations deadline, the United States is trying to expand a list of "dual-use" items—civilian and/or military—that the United Nations prohibits selling to Iraq.
Under the U.N. oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to use revenue from its oil sales to purchase humanitarian goods, Iraq must obtain U.N. approval to import the hundreds of dual-use items already on the list. The Security Council has until Jan. 4 to modify that list.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton has held a series of recent meetings with the other 14 council members in an effort to win approval of the U.S. list before the new year, when five council members are to be replaced.
As of Monday the U.S. effort had failed to win agreement from the other members, particularly Russia, according to a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. While that raised doubt that a deal would be struck before the deadline, the official said talks would continue.
The United States wants to add roughly three dozen items to the list, banning some outright while allowing others to be imported only after extensive review by a U.N. committee.
Many of the U.S.-proposed changes deal with technical materials that could be used in biological, chemical and nuclear weapons production facilities and programs.
But the proposals also address more practical concerns, like the possibility that Iraq might use chemical weapons to counter a possible U.S. invasion, or that it might use small watercraft to attack warships, as terrorists did in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. The items might seem harmless, but officials caution that many of them can serve military purposes.
The U.S. proposals target activated charcoal, a widely used industrial substance that could be used for protection against chemical weapons; hydraulic lift systems, which can be used for missile launchers; flight simulators and training systems; and equipment that could be used to jam communication systems.
One concern is aluminum tubes, which the United States believes Iraq wants for use in a centrifuge as part of a uranium-enrichment program. That could lead to a nuclear weapon.
U.S. officials said most of the sticking points on the proposals have been worked out, in some cases by narrowing the descriptions of potential banned items, such as the size of tires, engine power and payload capacity.
But some Security Council members are still concerned about suggested changes that would give weapons monitors and inspectors the right to question the large-scale importation of medical items that don't appear on the proscribed list. A recent Iraqi effort to buy large quantities of the drug atropine, which can be used to counter the effects of chemical weapons, fanned U.S. concerns that Iraq might be preparing to use deadly chemicals against an invading force.
Some council members fear that the expanded list could slow up contracts and create more work for inspectors who are already searching Iraq for banned weapons. They also worry that delivery of medicines for legitimate public health needs might be slowed.
Another remaining point of contention is trucks, which the United States says Iraq is converting into mobile missile launchers. Some other council members feel truck restrictions should be loosened.
U.S. officials have photos from an Iraqi military parade that show apparently modified trucks, bought under the oil-for-food program, complete with missiles.
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.