In Nod to Jordan, U.S. Moves to End Blockade of Red Sea : Mideast: Allies enforcing embargo against Iraq will allow ships to be inspected in port by private firm.
In a political gesture to Jordan, the Clinton Administration took the first steps Tuesday toward ending the allied naval blockade of the Red Sea that has been used to enforce the U.N. embargo against Iraq.
In a terse announcement, the Pentagon said the Navy will temporarily suspend its inspection of merchant vessels outside the Jordanian port of Aqaba and instead allow agents of Lloyd’s Register, a London-based firm, to verify contents of vessels after they dock.
The move, requested formally by King Hussein, came in the wake of Jordan’s peace accord with Israel last month and rapidly improving diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries.
If the onshore inspections prove satisfactory in a monthlong test, the United States and its U.N. allies will end their naval blockade in the Red Sea area and turn the operation over to Lloyd’s, officials said.
U.S. and allied warships will continue to enforce their 4-year-old naval blockade against Iraq in the Persian Gulf, which, like the Red Sea, serves as a major sea lane for cargo ships carrying goods to Iraq.
The embargo, imposed just before the Persian Gulf War, was initially designed to persuade Iraq to leave after it invaded Kuwait in August, 1990. It was continued after the war to ensure that Iraq did not rebuild its arsenal.
The allies began intercepting ships outside Aqaba after U.S. intelligence agencies suggested Jordan may have been helping Iraq get around the embargo. Hussein was critical of the allied offensive against Iraq, calling it a war against all Arabs.
Ending the interdiction of ships bound to and from Aqaba has long been a goal of Jordan, which has regarded the operation as an encroachment on its sovereignty and a slap in the face politically.
Washington’s relations with Jordan have warmed considerably since Hussein made peace with Israel, and President Clinton is now asking Congress to write off Amman’s almost $700-million debt and sell Jordan more military spare parts.
The Defense Department said the United States and the 13 other allied countries participating in the naval embargo have intercepted 21,392 vessels in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and have boarded 9,710 of them since the blockade was imposed Aug. 18, 1990.
Of the vessels boarded, about 500 have been diverted, mostly because their manifest papers were not in order or because their cargo holds were inaccessible, the Pentagon said. Most were cleared after closer inspection.
Pentagon officials said U.S. naval vessels will continue to conduct routine patrols in the Red Sea area, as they have for years, even if the job of enforcing the embargo against Iraq is moved ashore. The area serves as a strategic naval hub for the entire region.
Israel and Jordan are negotiating bilateral agreements on issues ranging from providing for joint management of the Dead Sea to setting up more border crossings for tourists.
U.S. participation in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf enforcement operation has involved 84 Navy and Coast Guard vessels, mostly frigates, destroyers and amphibious assault ships, the Pentagon said.