U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called for changes that would permit export to Iraq of more consumer goods while maintaining curbs on assistance to President Saddam Hussein's weapons program.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf called Powell's proposals for so-called "smart sanctions" an attempt to shift attention from Baghdad's contention that the sanctions be lifted because it has complied with U.N. resolutions to scrap its weapons of mass destruction.
Al-Sahhaf's comments came as he arrived at the United Nations for the second and final day of talks with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on bridging the impasse over sanctions and weapons inspections that has kept U.N. arms experts out of Iraq for over two years.
U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 just before the United States and Britain launched airstrikes to punish Baghdad for what they said was its failure to cooperate with the arms searches.
Under U.N. resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until the Security Council is convinced Iraq has rid itself of its weapons of mass destruction.
The council has promised to consider suspending sanctions for renewable 120-day periods if inspectors report that Iraq has cooperated and shown progress towards answering their outstanding questions about its disarmament.
Al-Sahhaf has ruled out the return of weapons inspectors, but has said Iraq would consent to less intrusive monitoring as long as Israel and other countries in the region were also monitored.
Annan said he was receptive to the Iraqi position, and reported that the talks were going well, and al-Sahhaf said he anticipated future rounds while insisting that Iraq has already complied with U.N. demands.
"We met the requirements and sanctions are still there," al-Sahhaf said. Now, he said, "we are hearing stupid statements from (Powell) talking about clever sanctions, as if he confessed that all what had been going on since 1990 is stupid."
He admitted to risk in the second category, but said such items as water pumps are vital to poor villages but are banned under the sanctions.
"I have every reason to believe we are able to keep the box as tightly closed as we have the last 10 years, without receiving on our shoulders all the baggage that goes with it," Powell said, adding that he hoped revisions could be completed before an Arab summit in late March.
Powell also stressed that modifications in the sanctions must involve tightening of questionable exports to Iraq from front-line states, neighbors like Jordan and Syria
During his Middle East swing, Powell said he reached agreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad to bring a pipeline from Iraq's oilfields, which the U.S. suspects was pumping Iraqi oil, under U.N. sanctions, which allow revenue from Iraqi oil sales to be used only for humanitarian purposes.
Powell said he had also discussed with Assad prospects for parallel negotiations with Israel while the Palestinians were negotiating with Israel, as well.
The Israel-Syria talks broke down 13 months ago. Powell did not broach the subject when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon.
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