UN Envoy Pushes for Iraq Flights

UNITED NATIONS Ч RussiaТs UN envoy is stepping up arguments that civilian flights to Iraq were not banned by the Security Council, despite U.S. and British interpretations to the contrary.

"Passengers could be executives, tourists, a dance team, or whatever. It is not prescribed by the resolutions," Ambassador Sergei Lavrov told reporters Tuesday.

"Passenger flights are allowed. You only have to notify the committee on sanctions," he added.

To make this point, Russia has notified the sanctions committee, and received its approval, for two humanitarian flights, UN officials said.

But one of them that arrived in Baghdad on Sunday also carried a dozen oil executives seeking to make deals.

While the United Nations was aware of the oil delegation, several council diplomats on the committee said they were under the impression this was not the main purpose of the trip, or they might not have approved it.

Lavrov conceded that interpretations in the council differed. "The Americans and the British believe that there must be a permission from the committee," he said.

"They donТt deny that its original resolutions did not prescribe passenger flights. But then they say that the practice has been established that you really have to wait until the committee says OK.

"But in this case, in spite of these differences in interpretation, there was both notification from us and an OK from the committee, in writing," Lavrov said.

"You can ask the chairman of the committee because I might be considered biased," he added.

At issue is resolution 687 following the 1991 Gulf War that spelled out specifics on sanctions, first imposed when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

The resolution does not specifically ban civilian aircraft but does bar commercial transactions.

"It depends if you count flights as economic activity. And we say they clearly are," a British official said.

But Lavrov said the bigger picture had to be considered. "There are no restrictions on passenger flights, whatsoever," he said.

"The Security Council resolutions do not provide for any restrictions to passenger flights to and from Iraq," he said.

"The cargo flights are possible only with the permission from the Security Council sanctions committee but passenger flights are not prohibited by the resolutions, so you only have to notify the sanctions committee," he added.

Security Council members expect this issue to come to a head in the near future.

Russia also is expected to raise again this month reducing from 30 percent to 20 percent the proportion of the proceeds from IraqТs "oil-for-food" sales earmarked for reparations stemming from the Kuwaiti invasion, council envoys said.

Under the UN "oil-for-food program," which began in December 1996, Baghdad may sell unlimited quantities of oil to buy food, medicine and other civilian necessities to help offset the effects of the sanction on ordinary Iraqis.