France, Russia Back Lifting of Iraq Sanctions


By Colum Lynch

Washington Post
May 22, 2003

The foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany said today that they will support a U.N. Security Council resolution lifting more than a decade of international sanctions on Iraq, clearing the way for approval of the measure and providing the Bush administration a major diplomatic victory. The Security Council is poised to adopt the resolution as early as Thursday, granting the United States and Britain -- Washington's leading military ally during the war in Iraq -- broad control over the country's economy and its budding political process until an internationally recognized Iraqi government is in place, according to senior U.S. and U.N. diplomats.

Meeting in Paris, the French, Russian and German foreign ministers, whose countries led the opposition to the war this spring, announced that they will support the United States' postwar plans despite reservations about what they view as the limited U.N. involvement in shaping the country's political and economic future. "Even if this text does not go as far as we would like, we have decided to vote for this resolution," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. "This is because we have chosen the path of unity of the international community."

The announcement ensured that the resolution, which the Bush administration said it will put to a vote before the 15-nation Security Council on Thursday, will pass easily. Only Syria, the lone Arab country on the council, has indicated it may not vote for the resolution, saying that it needs more time to consider the text. The support the United States has been able to muster represents a major diplomatic achievement for the Bush administration, which launched an invasion of Iraq in late March in the face of broad international opposition. The adoption of the resolution would mark the Security Council's first endorsement of a foreign occupation of a U.N. member nation after an invasion that its members roundly opposed. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell struck the final deal in a series of telephone conversations with his French, Russian and German counterparts during the past 24 hours, officials said. He will meet with them in France on Thursday at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight economic powers.

The seven-page resolution would immediately transfer legal control over Iraq's oil industry from the United Nations and Iraq to the United States and its allies. The oil proceeds would be used to finance the country's reconstruction, the costs of an Iraqi civilian administration, the completion of Iraq's disarmament and "other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq." Iraq's revenue would be placed in the Development Fund of Iraq, to be held in Iraq's Central Bank, which is being run by a former U.S. bank executive. The United States and Britain would select an auditor, subject to the approval of an international advisory and monitoring board, to scrutinize expenditures. A blanket immunity would shield Iraq's oil revenue from claims by foreign creditors until the United States yields control to an internationally recognized Iraqi government.

The resolution would also extend political legitimacy to U.S. rule in Iraq by granting the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority a formal mandate to "promote the welfare of the Iraqi people through the effective administration of the territory." It would pave the way for international financial institutions and for countries that questioned the legality of the overthrow of the Iraqi government to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. In an effort to broaden support for the resolution, the United States preserved a significant, though limited, role for the United Nations, with the resolution directing Secretary General Kofi Annan to appoint a special representative to oversee the U.N. relief and reconstruction efforts and to participate in the political transition to an Iraqi government. Powell has been urging Annan to appoint to the post a Brazilian diplomat, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who oversaw East Timor's transition to independence.

Despite sharp differences with the United States over the substance of the resolution, France and Russia were unable to marshal sufficient political momentum to force the Bush administration to make serious concessions that would ensure continued international control over Iraq's oil and place the United Nations at the center of efforts to rebuild the country. Though the United States ceded little ground on crucial matters during two weeks of negotiations on the draft resolution, it made a total of 90 changes to address the concerns of Security Council members. One key concession that helped clinch the agreement was the inclusion of a provision that would allow the council to review the implementation of the resolution within 12 months.

The United States also agreed to grant the U.N. secretary general as much as six months to phase out the U.N. oil-for-food program, which has $13 billion in the bank. But the United Nations would have to immediately transfer $1 billion of that money to a fund controlled by the U.S. military and its allies. The extension of the 7-year-old humanitarian program, which permitted Iraq to sell its oil to finance the purchase of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, would allow Annan to honor -- on a priority basis -- billions of dollars in contracts for products approved by the former Iraqi government. Russia has more than $4 billion in outstanding contracts. The United States also left open the door to a return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, a key demand of several council members.

Despite the concessions, the resolution proved tough to accept for Syria. In a bid to gain more time, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Mikhail Wehbe, flew to Damascus to discuss the U.S. proposal with the leadership. Syria's charge d'affaires, Fayssal Mekdad, said he will boycott a vote on Thursday if he does not receive instructions. "Can you imagine how difficult it is for the Syrians to endorse something which is legitimizing the foreign occupation of an Arab country?" a council diplomat said. "It is not easy." De Villepin said today he was satisfied that the text provides a "tangible and independent role" for the United Nations. "The text on the table is the result of compromise," he said. "The important thing today is that the United Nations play a key role."

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