The following is a transcript of Hans von Sponeck, administrator of the oil-for-food program, meeting with members of an international WPSR/IPPNW delegation of doctors and activists in Baghdad on April 5, 1999. [Note: Von Sponeck resigned his post in February 2000 in protest of the continuation of economic sanctions.] (A video and audio tape of the April 1999 meeting are available from www.scn.org/ccpi. A report of the WPSR delegation can be found at www.wpsr.org/mideast.)
Let me start maybe by saying we are now almost toward the end of this fifth phase of two and a half years of what we call 986 Programs, which are the programs that are defined by the Security Council Resolution 986 as an attempt to meet basic human needs of the population in this country which, you know, is between 22 and 23 million people.
One thing I should say here is we have just gone through difficult assessments, two types of assessments. One was to supply one of the three panels that the Security Council had set up – on disarmament, on missing persons, and on humanitarian issues – to supply the panel that dealt with humanitarian issues with an assessment of how we see the situation as of now. And what we have tried to do in this context is what has not been done before. And I'm sure this is an area of interest to you, which is to look for the first time at the social conditions in this country, which go beyond what is in the 986 Program defined by the Security Council. So we have had something to say to medical colleagues surely of interest on the psycho-social well being.
UNICEF has briefed you – I'm sure of that – on mental heath, poverty trends, on destitution, on women and deprivation, on child mortality, the disabled, the elderly, population dynamics, education, de-professionalization. It is frightening. You have seen it if you have gone, what is happening to the people who are well trained and who have no chance to work with their full capacity in the area of their training, if they're lucky; or to work in something which is way below what they're trained for; or to be out of work; or, as one priest said to me the other day, to be part of this 'emigration without noise', people who just quietly leave because of the circumstances here. So, you have what I would call a 'knowledge depletion situation' that really is very serious. And if you link that to... and that was really the main purpose of sending this paper, which we were not asked to send – this was an extra – to the Security Council to make the point that right now we are setting the stage for depriving another generation of the opportunity to become responsible national and international citizens of tomorrow. And that maybe the most serious aspect of it all, apart from the nutritional deficiency, apart from the health problems, apart from the inadequacy of the food basket as a way of satisfying food needs of people.
To me, the deprivation of young people to become responsible citizens is maybe the most serious effect of 9 years of embargo plus earlier 10 years of war-like situation in the confrontation with Iran. What kind of citizens do you have today? Well, I wanted to show the Security Council something that is much more vivid and much more direct than to show them something which is nicely printed with modern technology that is not available here in Iraq except to the U.N., to show them what happens to these young people. And here I asked the receptionist in my little hotel where I am to jot down what his friends had learned and what they were doing. And when you read this then you become already so aware of a tragedy, a silent tragedy, which is here really in the making beyond all the manifestations that you see as you drive, not through the brightly lit shopping areas which are there. Because profiteering is nicely in the making, you have a group of people who are getting more and more while you have a middle class that is becoming desperately, humiliatingly deprived of what they have had in their homes for many years which they've lost. You go on Friday's to auctions, and you can see that there are people who are selling the last little things that their families had in order to get fundamental basic needs which are not being able to be met by the humanitarian program that the U.N. is supporting.
And hear this, just 9 friends he listed. Well, let me give you just 4 examples here. None of these 9 are, by the way, working in the areas for which they were trained. First one, BSE degree [in] mechanical engineering works on a weaving machine. A graduate from the geography department is working as a taxi driver. A BSE degree in mechanical engineering is working in a sweets store. A graduate from medical college, no work. The CARE representative in this country, whom I'd asked to list what her Iraqi employees what kind of degrees they have and where they're actually working. She wrote a note to me sending me the list and added the sentence to highlight just one case, "Not long ago I was served ice cream by a qualified medical doctor". This is just a little bit of information you may already have which shows at what a tremendous disadvantage the young people are growing up.
Then you go to Baghdad University. The dean of the law faculty said to me, "This is intellectual genocide for youth". I go to the head of the pediatrics department of the University of Basra. He says to me, "I occasionally get a paper which shows what modern medical research is doing, and then I will try and make photocopies for my students". And then he paused and looked at me; and he said, "If I have photocopying paper." You know, that is the circumstance. And we have made a strong plea. I myself was in the Security Council in early March, and I pleaded for the removal of educational materials as items of embargo. I think that's cruel. It's cruel for the wrong people. It's cruel for the young, that have the right to interact with your...peers, your children's, my children's age group; and they cannot do that.
So, the U.N. has painfully not been able to cover these aspects very much. Why? Because we were quite rigidly defined in terms of seven different sectors that make up this multi-billion dollar program that is at our disposal to help in meeting basic – and I keep saying basic – physical needs, because we have said very little about mental, metaphysical needs. So here we talk about food, and medicines, and sanitation, and water equipment, about electricity, about agriculture, also about education. And unfortunately, the education orientation went in a way that I am personally not happy about; and that is the supply of desks, of hardware, certainly not of computers, because they are highly embargoed, because of the dual purpose nature, foolishly because if one can control this, one can control that also. We have to control every gas cylinder that comes into this country. They have a number, and we must make sure that gas cylinder number 765 is there and the other one is over there. If you can do it with that detail, surely you can also control computers that are necessary to help high school or university students to learn how to interact with modern technologies. So, education is part of it, of these seven areas.
Then we have in Northern Iraq, the map that you see over there defines the three northern Kurdish provinces, on the extreme left, of Dohuk, in the middle it is Erbil, and in the South it is Suleiymaniyah. These three are benefiting from a humanitarian program that is quite different. Not different in substance so much as in approach. In the North, the U.N. is the actual implementer. We are distributing. We are procuring directly. We are installing. And we are running the program in these three areas, with the, in quotes, 'local authorities'. The rest of Iraq it is the government of Iraq that does it, and we observe. We make sure that the food gets into the warehouses. We make sure that the food gets out of the warehouses, into the food stores or the stores of the food agent, and then to the beneficiary. The same with medicines, and the same with water and sanitation equipment and so on. So here we have this seven sector program which has a few special features in the North. For example the Northern areas, because of the confrontation with the Turkish-Kurdish groups, the PKK, the war with Iran, the war between the Kurds and the Arab forces, have led to a large degree of mining that has deprived the villagers from making use of their valuable agricultural land; and they were pushed into what are called collective towns. A lot of them live there waiting until the U.N. in its programs is freeing certain areas from the mines, so that they can go back into these areas except for a 5 kilometer belt along the Turkish-Iranian border where the Iraq government has insisted that we can do no de-mining. They want to keep that as a safety belt.
In the South, where you have, from various confrontations with Iraq and Kuwait, you have also a lot of mines. No body is doing anything about it. There is a German military medical team of ten doctors and paramedics that are part of the border commission that is the U.N. has set up between Kuwait and Iraq. They are doing a little bit of outreach to civilians because there are a lot of mines; and when I was down there, the doctor in charge said to me, in 15 days they had 14 mine victims just because they are going into, straying into these areas. Particularly at this time of the year when it is mushroom season, the desert has mushrooms. They look for these mushrooms, and they have a problem by of course becoming victims to these many mines that are around there. That's an area that hasn't been tackled. I've encouraged the Security Council to do something about that. I would like to see a de-mining awareness scheme and also hospitals to be equipped, in the surrounding areas, with appropriate medicines that they do no have right now to treat mine victims and to have a more active United Nations to help in the de-mining operations. There is an Argentine team of de-miners. All they do is look after their own U.N. roads and areas where they settle, have their camps; but they are not allowed to do any de-mining in the.... Well, this is very little bit, superficially the areas that we cover.
You have heard I'm sure a lot about medicines and the overstocking in hospitals [and warehouses] with medicines. If you get from someone a mono-causal explanation then start getting suspicious. It is not – I repeat, it is not, and you can check this with my colleagues – a premeditated act of withholding medicines from those who should have it. It is much, much more complex than that. For example, let me start with one factor. If you earn $1.50 a month in a warehouse that has medicines, will you work 14 hours a day? I doubt it. You can't even afford to be there 8 hours a day because you have to somehow make some other money in order to get at least enough into your 'kitty' in order to finance the needs of your household. Problem number one.
Problem number two: transport. There's not enough transport.
Problem number three: the warehouses in the provinces are in bad shape.
Problem number four: the Security Council does not allow cash in the hands of the Iraqi authorities. No cash from us – from that budget of oil revenues – in the hands of Iraqis. Therefore, very often, for very basic things there is not the cash to ensure, for example, that a special refrigeration situation is paid for, for drugs of that kind. Lots of problems of that kind because of a little money that is not there.
Yes, there is also intermittent overstocking. And that intermittent overstocking can have two causes. One is a deliberate government directive to overstock. We are not arguing that this hasn't been the case at times. But it is one factor and not a major factor in our opinion. The speculation – particularly by the press – is that this is because of military needs, and therefore they want to overstock. You as doctors know very easily that this is a silly argument. Because what the military in a war situation needs in terms of medicine is not the kind of medicine that we are bringing in for normal diseases and illnesses into the warehouses. So that argument doesn't hold very much.
So you have that. You have also the problem...can you imagine...the process of procuring a box of pills. The government of Iraq – through Kemadya, the organization of the Ministry of Health responsible for ordering – will say 'We want this box of medicines.' They look to a supplier somewhere around the world. They find a supplier. That supplier makes an offer. That offer has to transfer into a contract. The contract has to be signed. It then comes to us through the government of the producing country. Because the onus on showing that you don't break the embargo, that you are not a 'sanction buster', is [on] the country where the item is made that is to be exported to Iraq. So the government, usually the Ministry of Defense, comes into that, has to authorize the export of that item. The Mission of that country to the U.N. then submits the request to the U.N. The U.N. then submits that to the Sanctions Committee. The Sanctions Committee has to approve it. Then the Banque Nationale de Paris – as the holder of Iraqi money – must then release, on the basis of an irrevocable letter of credit, the funding.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can imagine what can happen in the course of that many steps in terms of the delay that can occur. I'm mentioning it, because what you can have is a consignment of psychotropic drugs that come into the country and suddenly, a day later, the same consignment comes again, because one supplier went through the motions faster than the other. That leads to overstocking also. So there are many reasons why things can go wrong in the medical sector.
You hear often – by those who want to prove that Iraq is intrinsically evil – that in the electricity sector it works well, but in the medical sector it doesn't work well. Well, why? Why? Because...so the argument [goes]...because electricity is important to the military and therefore they do something there; and it's not important in the medical sector, so they don't do something there. First of all, to distribute to 23 million people drugs is a much more intricate system than to distribute electrical spare parts to maybe 25 large electricity factories in this country. So it's a scale problem here with which we deal, and I don't think one can so easily say that this is all because here is a priority and here is no priority. So it's all a little bit more complex than it looks from a distance.
A word on the people that we have here. We have, in moving this program...the value of this program at the moment is about...for the 6 months in which we are right now, we think, with good luck depending on the oil prices, we may have about $2 billion. We probably have, the conservative figure is maybe, $1.6 to $1.7 billion for 6 months. And the items that are procured, distributed, the implementation is in the hands of about 410 international staff that are distributed all over the place. But in the North, in Baghdad, and from Baghdad, travel every day we have – I think before Easter we had 37 – groups of people outside to monitor and see what is in the warehouses, what is in the shops, how does it go, what problems are there, and so on. So, this team of about 410 of international staff...to this you need to add about 1000 Iraqis that are paid by the U.N. to assist as national staff, and then another 1000 to 1500 counterparts that come from government ministries and so on. So, you have a fairly large team of people; but covering the area it's tough driving, very often tough temperature conditions, often not easy psychological conditions because of the security circumstances that prevail here. We have, I think, a team that shouldn't be considered so luxurious as sometimes the press and others – I've heard people even in New York, Security Council, say, "Shouldn't you prune now? Isn't that really much more than you need?" Well, I don't think so. I think we need these [people] to be at the disposal. They also include by the way a United Nations guard contingent of police officers in the North trying to provide escort in rather volatile security circumstances. So that is the team that is working with us.
Maybe a word, and then I should maybe stop. And we have a little bit of time for discussion and questions. What is my role? I am supposed to be the Humanitarian Coordinator here. And people, [the] press again, frequently try to get out of me anti-sanctions statements. And they won't get that. That does not mean that I am pro-sanctions. I am not at all pro-sanctions. But the reality of my function is that in this house, which has many windows and doors, I cannot afford to have these windows closed and these doors closed. I must work with the American ambassador to the Security Council as well as I work with the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iraq. That doesn't convert me into a hypocrite or someone who is not having any principles. But it makes me a bit cautious, and tries to remind me everyday that the main role that I have here is that of a manager of a humanitarian program with all the inadequacies that this program has. That reminds me I did not give you the figure. If you assume – let's say for the sake of argument – $2 billion twice a year, six months, six months, two phases, $4 billion a year for 22 million people. Then you are getting a per capita figure per year of just under $180. Now, I ask you $180 per year? That's not a per capita income figure. That is a figure out of which everything has to be financed, from electrical services to water and sewage, to food, to health – the lot. Now if you have $180, and then the press asks me, "Do you consider that adequate for survival?" I can say, at the very best, "The nose is just above the water, so that you are not drowning. But, over the period of years the nose is increasingly touching that water; and many people are already drowning." So, it is not a figure that we can really take lightly or accept as adequate. So, that is something I think that needs to be said.
I want to say here too, apart from trying to be a decent manager of a complex program, I also want to be a troubleshooter. We have plenty of problems that arise that we didn't expect: A person is declared an undesirable alien. Somebody is smuggling an item into the country. A contract is – we have just now had a case, we don't know yet how it will end – 2,600 tons of rice coming into the country, and we discover that the first layer of that rice is looking nicely and good as it should. You go a little bit further down and what you get is crusted, caked up with filth and dirt, infested stuff, obviously a supplier who has tried to pull a fast one. Iraq is very often the victim of this sort of taking advantage of a country that has no freedom of direct accessing and payment and controlling. They get, not everyday, but they do get these fraudulent contracts, and troubleshooting has to be done here too. We have a team by the way, two types of teams, one for the oil side and one for the other commodities that are controlling what goes out in terms of oil and what comes in in terms of commodities. They try to make checks, but you know that's a limited team also, and sometimes things just go through. But we have this evidence of just really fraudulently supplied commodities. So, the role of a troubleshooter is there.
Then, you can imagine 410 internationals, over a 1000 Iraqis, and then security problems. We have a security advisor here in my office. We are trying to work with the Iraqi military and diplomatic security. We have our colleagues here. We have 4 military colleagues here in this building. To try to get a feeling for the security situation, my role – I'm supposed to be the designated official for security also here. So that the U.N. can be assured our people are safe, we have to strike a daily balance between the need to observe where does this food go, where does the medicine go, and the security of the staff. It's sometimes very touchy because you don't want to create imbalances in favor of either of these, and so I have that security role.
But, I also have the role that you want to play; and that is the role of an interpreter, an interpreter of this situation as it exists in as unemotional terms as is possible. It's very hard sometimes. And particularly when you have no data, the tendency that you become emotional is even greater. But the real conclusion one can only draw - I've only been here just under 6 months - is that the way this country has deteriorated in terms of its social fabric is a way that any one of us who has any kind of moral fabric in him or her can certainly not accept...And therefore the interpreter role [is] to try to make a case for change, to try to also argue a basic rethinking [of] whether sanctions are really of this kind the answer to tackle and handle political leadership that is not what the wider world considers as appropriate and correct. And I wonder, I don't think the last chapter on the wisdom of sanctions has really been written yet. And it is you. It is me. It's us, who can together, maybe make that difference, and therefore I welcome enormously that you came. And I know that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will probably - I hope - write a good series for the public. Other newspapers should do the same. And we should move away increasing from this cheap sensationalism that doesn't help anybody. We must understand what happens to people's minds. You, as doctors, you will be interested in the mental health situation, which is not good. The figures suggest that mental illness among youth is on the increase. All kinds of difficulties. Well, I think I've said enough. And I would be happy to respond to some questions, but this is what I wanted to say. Thank you.
Questioner(s): Are we able to get a copy of that...?
Von Sponeck: I wanted to...I have a few...You know, we are briefing the embassies here. There are 43 embassies in Iraq, and every 6 weeks we are briefing them. And I brought 6 copies here of a diplomatic update which gives you a few figures, a few things that you may find interesting. I can also share, if there's interest in the last report that we sent to the Security Council, on what we call the 90 Day Report...And what I can unfortunately not share with you yet is this Social Conditions in Iraq paper, because this went to the Security Council recently; and I would be in trouble if I shared.
Q: But will it be available?
V: Yes, it will be available...If you give me an address, I will send you a copy myself. I've done that before. I will do it with that...The individual paper is no problem. It's the totality of this plus the fact that we, as a team of 9 U.N. agencies, we've all signed the thing to show that we are all here working as a team. So, 11 signatures, 9 nationalities – Arabs, Europeans, North Americans, Australians – are all on here; and therefore, I think we show that there is no regional or geographic bias in this....
Q: Thank you very much for your presentation. It's been very informative. I want to ask you a practical question. How are the sanctions actually policed at the – I assume it's primarily at the entry points into Iraq, at the borders, et cetera?
V: I should have mentioned that to you. There are three land entry points and one sea entry point. The most northern land entry point is in Zakho which is between Turkey and Iraq. That's where you get a lot of items that go for the Kurdish areas in the North. They come in that way. Then you have Syrian-Iraqi border post called Al-Walid, which is probably the one with the least volume of goods; but you get also there humanitarian supplies. Then you have Trebil through which you came. You came through the Jordanian-Iraqi border post at Trebil, and if you look carefully you will discover something which is quite interesting. You discover U.N.-related trucks that go in one lane. They are authenticated. They are stopped. They are looked at, sampled, weighed...whatever, compared to the contract. They are trying to do a job there. And then you have another lane and these are the 'sanction busters'. These are the ones that go through. They're not checked. You don't know what they are. And that is in those cases where a country agrees to the export without looking at the content, or ignores, or there is a falsification, or there is something special thereby bypassing the sanctions route. So you have two inflows, and particularly at the border that you have crossed [at Trebil] that is the case. And then you have as the fourth border entry point, Umm Qasr, which is a harbor which was constructed in the 80's with Russian funding which is in the southern-most part, south of Basra. That's were you get the bulk shipments of wheat, of rice. For example, when I was there recently, a ship came with Australian wheat. You get Vietnamese rice. You get other commodities. They're coming that way. So these are the four points of entry.
Q: So if I'm right, the 'sanctions busters' are just coming in a different lane.
V: They are coming in a different lane.
Q: Who stops them?
V: Nobody...Iraq is happy...So if, without offense to anyone who may be from Greece here in this room, if the Greek supplier of lollipops wants to ship lollipops and not go to the sanctions committee and therefore has 10 million lollipops in a truck, that truck can go through into Iraq without any authentication.
Q: Is it possible to maybe change the discussion a little bit from the minute details? And what you have told us adds extra information to what we have gathered in the last week, from what we've read in the Secretary-General's report. And basically, it really says there is no prospect for improvement. The imbalance of the payments which will be received is so short of the requirements that, in the foreseeable future, there is no prospect of improvement. On the other hand the sanctions have not accomplished what the Security Council set out to do....
V: Now, when I was in March in the Security Council, I tell you, one overwhelming expression of support, including – I have to be fair – from the U.S. representative and from the U.K. representative, was that the humanitarian situation as it exists in Iraq now cannot continue like that. So that's good. And we have to cash in on that. This document which we sent is meant to be an input into that. I've read the report of the panel of the Security Council which will be considered by the full Security Council. In there are lots of recommendations that show that one wants to have fundamental improvement in the way the humanitarian situation is handled here in many different aspects. For example, re-introduce a little private sector initiative, micro-, medium-, small-scale enterprise development. I haven't told you anything about, but one could talk a lot about, the ad-hoc nature of the 6 month program. The fact that there is no training, or hardly any, no capacity building, no medium...longer-term development orientation. So, all of that, they are aware. They want to have a change. They are talking about it. And the basic attitude is positive, I would say, among all 15 [members of the Security Council]. Some of them keep reminding us – the U.S. reminds us regularly – what is the cause of it all. Yes, that's fair. But the point still is that the methods we are using make it worse. That's the overall conclusion here. Year after year, there is a further deterioration.
What can colleagues, medical doctors do? I would say, one thing you must forcefully do is to make your claim for the removal of all educational materials from the list of embargoed items. That is the beginning of trying to open up the minds of the young people. From the U.S. is a law: anything that is heavier than 4 ounces cannot be sent from American to Iraq. Now what can you...You can't send a scientific paper to Iraq if you want to. And if you wanted to and could, they would not let it through because it's an embargoed item. So I think you must, in my view, argue for the opening up the mental prison that has developed here – Number One.
Number Two: Faculty exchange. Getting physicians to come here and operate and demonstrate with their colleagues what can be done with modern technology. I was told that there is a flying hospital proposal that has just been agreed upon by the government, which I'm very happy about. It's that sort of effort that I think needs to be done. You should invite people from Iraq to go out and join your medical association meetings if you can. Bring them back into the fold of internationalism, and not let them shrink in their little world of Iraq.
These are some tangible possibilities that you should use.
[Number Three:] You should also say something about the additive effect of deprivation on the mental health of a nation. From a medical point of view, I think you can say a lot about that.
[Number Four:] You should try and encourage people who agree that medicines need to be imported, to ensure that the medicines are imported in such a way that the therapeutic value isn't lowered, because you may get in psychic disorders, for example, you need a battery of medicines, and if you can only get one and not the others, then you have this is out of joint, and even the available medicine will not do the trick.
So these are all little things that you could do.
Q: But these are little things. I mean, one cannot micro-manage a whole country. We know it from the socialist countries, the communist countries. It didn't work there, and it can't work here. We know that because it obviously has not worked. So, is there some other agenda we are not aware of?
V: Of course, there is...
Q: To what extent do countries in the world impose their own sanctions on businesses and individuals just as the U.S. is doing to us in this situation? And how much do those relate the U.N.-imposed sanctions?
V: The U.N. doesn't impose sanctions. It's the Security Council member governments [that] are the ones that come together and impose sanctions. We are the U.N. We implement what we are allowed to implement. So, I don't see a distinction between a U.S. sanction, in broad terms, and what is done and coming out of the Security Council of the U.N. I think the leader in the discussion for sanctions is the U.S. side. And they are the ones, together with the British, who have devised many of these special provisions that govern the implementation of the 986 Program. So I think they are coming together in that Security Council of 15 nations and work as a team, and that is the outcome. I don't see a separate U.S. sanction regime that is markedly different from the U.N. Security Council sanction regime. You have features that are bilateral, like the no-fly zone situation. But, in terms of what comes in for the people, I think there is pretty much a common view in the Security [Council], or was, [of] how to handle that.
Q: Can you say something about malnutrition, chronic malnutrition...? And whether you feel that the oil-for-food program as it stands is going to be able to do anything more than kind of keep the rations alive?
V: Well, if you talked to UNICEF, then they gave you already some information. I just want to say, malnutrition – general malnutrition, acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition – all three are in better shape in the northern areas, in these three northern Kurdish areas, than in the rest. That has many quite objective reasons. One of which is that in the Kurdish part of Iraq, the per capita contribution from the humanitarian program is much higher than in the rest of Iraq. That's one reason. The other is that the Kurdish areas are adjacent to Turkey through which a lot of illegal items are coming into Iraq. [Another reason is] the market mechanisms are much better functioning in those parts. There's much more private activity than there is in this part of the country. That explains the differential between the North and the Center-South. Having said that, I'm sure my UNICEF colleague did say to you that none of the figures, neither the 23% for general malnutrition in the South-Center nor the 14% in the North, are an acceptable figure. It's bad, and one should try and do something about it. The food basket has never managed to meet, over any length of time, the caloric levels of initially 2,300 then lowered to 2,200 calories per day – always a bit lower. So, the food basket isn't adequate.
Q: But what about the oil-for-food program? Because you gave the...half yearly income. Can you explain where those figures come from, because at the moment, in theory, Iraq is allowed to raise I think 5.26 billion [dollars]?
V: Well, you know, it's 5.2 [billion] since May of last year. The oil industry is in such bad shape that it cannot meet that. Plus the oil prices are poor, were poor. From a high of $16, $17 per barrel, it went down as low as $8 per barrel. So the income has not been what was expected. It's less. So, instead of 5.2, it was closer to 3 billion. Out of the 3 billion [dollars], you have to deduct 30% which go the Iraq Compensation Commission in Geneva that looks at government, industry, and individual claims for compensation arising out of the Kuwait-Iraq War. Then comes out of that 0.8% for UNSCOM, [and] 2.2[%] overhead for the whole running of the program. And then you end up with something which is in the neighborhood, as I said, of $1.7 and $2.0 billion per six months. On a 12 month basis, you have let's say $4 billion for 22-and-a-half million people. If you divide that, you get per person about $177 per year. And that is obviously a totally, totally inadequate figure...
Q: After my visit here last May with Ramsey Clark and their group, I had an opportunity to go to my board of physicians in Canada, and they were appalled. And Eric Hostens, who is a signatory to the Harvard medical study and now an advisor to Lloyd Axworthy within his office, was there and heard me. After they heard my emotional presentation, they asked him what he thought [because] he'd spent a lot of time in this area. He said, unfortunately it was true. He just said it like that...Now, I'm aware that he spoke in the Security Council introducing this concept of 'human security'...Is there a possibility that this concept of 'human security' can become a guiding principle that starts to have teeth, starts to have substance...in terms of how the U.N. deals with internal problems as well as the problems here in Iraq.
V: It's an interesting question. I honestly think, really, not because some of you are Americans, but I really honestly think that people like Ambassador Burley in the Security Council are also well meaning...It's not just rhetoric when they say they are concerned about the human security, about the human welfare. I think they genuinely are. But in their scheme of weighing things, the political evil of the leadership here outweighs everything else. That's really what they're facing...The concept of human security which we use, by the way, very nicely in other contexts – the UNDP writes these human development reports every year – the concept of human security is a very powerful concept. And I think we should give it meaning by defining it in operational terms of the kind that we are now trying to do. We are trying to make a strong case for doing something about re-establishing the knowledge base, about doing something [in] these special targeted nutrition programs for vulnerable groups. There was even a proposal – interesting – from the CARE representative here in this room, who said, "Look, resident doctors in hospital who have long hours of work, 16 hours a day, they are a vulnerable group. They need to get special diets. They need to get special food." It makes good sense to me. So, there is a lot of thinking now. And I think we have come to a point where the awareness, through you, through us in the wider public is much better than it was before. But we have to go further than that.
Q: You didn't mention depleted uranium...Are you able to say anything about that?
V: You know, what can I say? ...There was a symposium here. You know about it. There was an American Army nurse here who spoke in very strong terms about how it had affected her. I don't want to pass...I don't know enough about it. And maybe the truth lies [in] that all sides used something they shouldn't have used. I don't know. Sorry.
Q: Mr. Von Sponeck...I thank you for all of your good work and the clarity of all the things that you've said to us today. In that context, the number $180 per person per year...stays very clearly in my head. There's another number which I want to ask you about which concerns the destroyed infrastructure going back to the Persian Gulf War. And the number that I remember from United Nations reports, the very first one I think in March of 1991, is an estimate of $22 billion to repair the essential, basic life supporting infrastructure, which then I did a calculation, is $1000 per person...It seems to me that the infrastructure has to be repaired in order to return the citizens here to a decent standard of living, so they can drink their water safely, so they don't have brown-outs of electricity everyday. Do you see any prospects of that happening in the near future with sanctions as they might, or are likely to, continue under all of the constraints you have described to us?
V: No, the money isn't there...The lead up time – if you free sanctions, let sanctions go tomorrow – it will take years before you have an uptake in revenue. At the moment you get rid of sanctions, all the ones who have a claim on Iraq will come forward. They want first from the unfrozen accounts, their money. And so what Iraq will be left with is probably very little. Iraq now has an estimated national debt of $190 billion, that includes the claims, some of which will be unrealistic, from the compensation commission collection. But the fact is, it's a high amount of debt. The industry is in bad shape. The spare parts takes quite a while. To open new oil fields will also take a long while. So, before you get a normalcy of a running economy that has money to spend for modernizing and replacing antiquated infrastructure, [it] will take a long time. So, you know, it is not going to be today a problem and tomorrow, no sanctions, end of the problem. I think the catching up, also the fact that you have such a large number of people who by now should be in medium level leadership positions and who are in nothing, to make them really competent, it will take also time. I think it will take 10 plus years...before you get back to...from the moment sanctions are dropped to a more normal situation.
Q: You know it's easy to leave here feeling pretty despondent and in despair, because it feels as though unless Iraq has access to her own wealth, we can peel away at this and not a lot's going to happen. Unless Iraq becomes once again a sovereign nation, with a right to have access to her own wealth, that all we can do is a very small amount. And yet one-to-one humanitarian work is satisfying and, I think, worthy. But, I guess it feels pretty dismal to think that probably the world is not going to allow Iraq to have access to her own wealth any time in the near future. And I wonder, do you have any thoughts on that?
V: Well, I can only nod and agree with you. There is a much wider design here, you know, where Iraq fits somewhere. And I don't think that...we have terribly much chance to nibble on that design. But there are governments, there are people, there are groups that are trying. I tell you, I'm highly impressed by what the French are doing in this country and for this country. The Russians, not an easy partner for us westerners, but convincing in their concern. It says nothing about, ultimately, motives. But the manifestation of these motives, with regard to Iraq, are the right ones at the moment. The Chinese, again for all kinds of reasons. So, there are efforts to question and to argue that...the experiment is over, and we should never apply this kind of thing to any other country again, because we have seen that this experiment fails, in human terms. I think that is, in itself, maybe the best that can come out of all this.
Q: It seems extraordinary that the target hasn't been articulated. What needs to be done for these sanctions to be lifted...?
V: There's no more capacity to produce biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles, ballistic weapons. If that is certified by UNSCOM, then supposedly this will lead to what is called a comprehensive review, which includes the humanitarian situation and the end of sanctions. And, according to those who deal with those subjects, we are not there yet.
Q: I've heard reports that one...there is recent full cooperation with UNSCOM to developments of the last few months. I mean there are obvious reasons why it's...
V: Inspections, and replace it by monitoring at the borders to really know what is coming in. That's a French proposal. So there is no dearth of [ideas of] all kinds. The Canadians came up with a proposal that led to the formation of these panels in order to try to find a new way. So, all kinds of attempts to find a new approach. But I think the key to it all is, Can there be an agreement on the disarmament issue? And if that happens, then I think we have a chance to see a better approach with regard to how the public is treated here. But until then, I think it will just drag on. That's my feeling.
Q: I want to ask if you could describe what has happened to the oil-for-food program after the bombing by the U.S. ...on the pipelines...?
V: You know there again, it is very hard for us to make a distinction between the assessment of the actual damage and the propaganda that is surrounding the assessment. There were 3 different incidents. One led to the destruction of an illegal refinery in Basra, in the South. I am told that even that has been repaired, but that's not our concern. Then there were attempts, two attempts in fact...in the North affecting the Kirkuk-Turkey pipeline. They did some repairing, and the oil continued to flow. Then there was, two days ago, the resumption of [bombing] and that led to the destruction of one, not a refinery of course, but a part of a control mechanism for a pipeline. I don't know where that [is], and you may want to find out where are we on this repair business. It was repaired...But is it a temporary repair or full repair? I don't know. The overall flow of oil and the volume, it doesn't look as a result of even those incidents, in terms of volume, any less good than it did before. In fact, the overall revenues are better because the prices are higher.
Q: It seems to me...we focus on Iraq, on the embargo...on this issue of arms in Iraq...$22 billion worth of arms...since 1970's...[$]11 billion to Saudi Arabia. When I'm sitting reading the Jordan Times in the airport on my way into Iraq...150,000 Turkish troops cross in to beat up on three towns in the northern governorates...Is there any discussion to broaden the issue of arms control using the U.N. which is now just a voluntary...and to look to the neighbors of Iraq to reconsider an arms embargo, an arm inspection of the whole area, so they start to develop an equity and a balance and start to defuse some of Iraq's recalcitrance and reluctance to cooperate in this area. Are those larger discussions...I'm sure they must be going on but are they at any serious level?
V: Well, you know, as a U.N. person, I can tell you I'm the first one who's disappointed about the progress with the arms register, for example. It doesn't work...It doesn't work. The arms market is probably everyday eating two eggs for breakfast, because the business is flourishing again. I think this issue is on the side burner right now. It's not a big discussion.
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