UN Council May Modify US Call to End Bans On Iraq

May 2, 2003

Chances are slim the UN Security Council will lift sanctions against Iraq next month despite US President George W. Bush's call to end the bans and get the United Nations out of Iraq's oil business. Diplomats said on Thursday a suspension or phase-out of the sanctions was more likely to be approved by June 3, the day the UN Iraq oil-for-food program must be renewed. Or they said the June 3 date would be moved back. The Bush administration has demanded that all sanctions, except for an arms embargo, be lifted to set Iraq's economy free. It would end the oil-for-food program, which gives the United Nations control over oil pricing and other contracts.

US-led forces invaded Iraq in March and toppled the government of Saddam Hussein in a war that deeply divided the Security Council. Russia and France have reservations about stopping the embargoes immediately and Britain has not yet signed on to all the US proposals. The oil-for-food program, which began in 1996, puts Iraq's oil revenues into a UN-administered fund out of which suppliers of food, medicine and other goods Iraq orders are paid, with $12 billion now in the account. Some 60 percent of Iraqis are totally dependent on the program, designed to ease the impact of sanctions imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The United States is not expected to produce a draft resolution for a week or so, with administration officials saying differences still persist between the US military, which wants one "omnibus" resolution, and the State Department, which advocates step-by-step measures.

At a meeting called by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday, Security Council members said they were waiting for concrete proposals from Washington. US Ambassador John Negroponte told them, "We didn't expect to put forward anything this week but we would hope to do it as soon as possible," one envoy at the session reported. Annan has urged the council to unite, saying on Wednesday, "The overriding objective must be to enable the Iraqi people to take charge of their own destiny."


Britain, which is expected to co-sponsor and lobby council members for the resolution, has substantial reservations about the US proposals that sideline the United Nations politically as well as UN arms inspectors. "They certainly don't like what they have seen," said one administration official. The US proposals, diplomats said, want the Security Council to transfer Iraq's oil wealth to a new Iraqi administration, with World Bank oversight. The measure would ask the council to appoint a UN envoy in an advisory role but exclude UN arms inspectors from verifying that Iraq is clean of weapons of mass destruction.

Bush administration officials argue that since the sanctions were imposed to restrain Saddam Hussein's government after he invaded Kuwait, there can be little justification for keeping them in place now that he is gone. But Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear this week he would not end sanctions without UN inspectors verifying that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction as Security Council resolutions demand. Moscow wants the oil-for-food program to stay in place until an Iraqi government is formed and recognized and allow Annan to sign for oil contracts. France appears more flexible, advocating suspending the sanctions while the oil-for-food program is phased out, and a total lifting of the embargoes after inspectors verify Iraq is clear of dangerous arms. Council diplomats note that France, unlike Russia, has given few concrete details.

Britain wants the United Nations to participate in reconstruction as well as forming a new government. But Prime Minister Tony Blair said in his recent talks with Putin that the world body should not play a dominant role. "Getting the balance right between the coalition and the United Nations is where the debate is," a British diplomat said. Annan suggested a primary role for the United Nations in "political facilitation," code for helping to forge an Iraqi government, as it did in Afghanistan. He also wants UN weapons inspectors back in the country and the sanctions phased out, but said the world body should not take charge in Iraq. While the United States could just let the oil-for-food program lapse on June 3 by vetoing any resolution to renew it, such an action would raise legal problems and probably deter multinational companies, whose investment and trade is sorely needed by Iraq, from doing business there.

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