Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON--The Iraqi economy is devastated, the people destitute, the country desperately awaiting reconstruction. Fortunately, it has oil. Perversely, it cannot sell its oil because it is still technically under the U.N. sanctions imposed in 1990 on Saddam Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait, and kept in place when he refused to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. All we need to get suffering Iraqis on the road to recovery is to lift the embargo and let them sell their oil.

Not so fast, says Russia's foreign minister. ``This decision cannot be automatic. For the Security Council to take this decision we need to be certain whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not.''

In the history of diplomacy going back to, oh, Babylonian times, it is hard to find a pronouncement as cynical.

During the 1990s, when Saddam was concealing his weapons of mass destruction, the Russians did everything they could to lift sanctions. Indeed, in 1999 Russia refused to support the resolution renewing weapons inspections. It showed not the slightest concern about these WMDs when controlled by Saddam, a man who invaded two neighboring countries, attacked two others and used chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of innocents. But now that Iraq is run not by a local mass murderer but an American president, Russia has acquired a sudden concern about Iraq's WMDs--and wants to keep sanctions imposed, and the Iraqi economy starved, until those concerns are satisfied.

Russia's breathtaking cynicism is matched by France's. The French, however, are more subtle. The WMD pretense is simply too transparent. The French speak instead of clarifying ``modalities'' before ending the embargo.

``Modalities'' is French for ``payoff.''

Having decided not just to sit out the war but to actively oppose the liberation of Iraq, France, like Russia, has only one card left to play in post-Saddam Iraq. Under U.N. rules, the sanctions can only be lifted by a positive vote of the Security Council, which means that France and Russia have veto power. Their concern about weapons of mass destruction and ``modalities'' is nothing more than simple blackmail.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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