LONDON, Oct. 17 -- The United Arab Emirates president has called for lifting U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, saying more than 18 million Iraqis are being punished unfairly for mistakes by their leader. 'We believe the time for reconciliation has come. Lifting the sanctions on Iraq is a duty,' UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al- Nahyan said in remarks published Tuesday by the London Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. 'More than 18 million Iraqis are facing starvation,' he said, speaking Monday to several newly accredited ambassadors to his country. 'As Arabs, we should not accept this, whether the West approves or disapproves.' Iraq has been under strict economic sanctions since Aug. 6, 1990, when the U.N. Security Council imposed them to punish Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait. The measures have caused acute shortages of food, medicine and other goods. The council has renewed the sanctions regularly since then because Iraq has not complied with U.N. requirements for lifting them, including dismantling its capability for weapons of mass destruction and accounting for all prisoners of war. Zayed also urged Arab governments to bury their differences and accept the principle of reconciliation. 'There is no doubt that Saddam (Hussein) has made several mistakes. He is a human being, and human beings make mistakes. But our Kuwait brothers have committed mistakes too by refusing to reconcile their differences with those countries who supported Iraq during the Gulf War, ' Zayed said. He referred to Jordan, Yemen and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which refused to be part of the U.S.-led international coalition forces that drove Iraq out of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
Zayed said the history of the human race is full of examples of countries who fought each other, but could later sit down together and talk. 'Why can't we turn a new leaf and cooperate with each other?' he said. In an address last week to the 50th session of the U.N. General Assembly, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Said al-Sahaf accused the United States of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs and its relations with its neighbors. 'We would like to say to the United States that the solution lies in dialogue that ensures...achievement of interests on the basis of balance and equality,' al-Sahaf said. Diplomatic sources in the UAE said Zayed's remarks were unlikely to lead to direct contact with Iraq, which the international community has shunned since the sanctions were imposed. Relations between Iraq and the UAE, however, deteriorated before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait when Iraq accused the UAE in June 1990 of flooding the international market with oil and depressing prices. Both are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and rely heavily on oil revenues. Qatar is the only member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to resume direct contact with Iraq. Other council members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.