UN Votes to End Sanctions on Iraq


By John J. Goldman

Los Angeles Times
May 23, 2003

The Security Council voted 14-0 on Thursday to immediately end sanctions against Iraq, setting the stage for oil exports to resume quickly and allowing the U.S. and Britain to retain power during the nation's transition to a freely elected government. "The United States and its coalition partners will remain in Iraq as long as necessary to help Iraq on the path toward democracy," President Bush said after the vote. U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte called the lifting of sanctions "the turning point of a historical page that should brighten the future of a people and a region."

Other ambassadors said the vote signaled the healing of wounds on the Security Council, which had been bitterly divided over the U.S.-led military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "The council has come back to the path of dialogue and unity," said Martin Belinga-Eboutou, Cameroon's U.N. ambassador. "This is a good day for the United Nations," agreed Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's U.N. ambassador. "It is a good day for the Security Council." Syria, the only Arab nation on the 15-member council, sat out the vote.

Syrian leaders in Damascus were weighing a decision when the vote took place, said Fayssal Mekdad, Syria's deputy permanent representative to the U.N. "I am sure they were looking at the TVs when they saw the council making a decision," he said. France had also raised the prospect of abstention but dropped its objections after the measure was revised to increase the U.N.'s oversight role. "It is a compromise. It is give and take," said Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's U.N. ambassador. He called the final document "a good outcome of a long negotiation." During negotiations, France, Russia and Germany — which opposed the U.S.-led war — complained that the resolution did not contain language limiting the time the United States and Britain would occupy Iraq.

The Bush administration and Britain firmly turned down time limits. But in an important last-minute concession, they agreed that the Security Council could review implementation of the resolution and "consider further steps." Greenstock said the Iraqi people would live under occupation "as short a time as possible." "Only the Iraqis can decide their own political future," he said. "Not even the United Nations wants to do that. We, the powers on the ground and the United Nations, are both there to facilitate the process of returning Iraq exclusively to the Iraqis."

In Baghdad, Iraqis expressed satisfaction about the lifting of sanctions, but more pressing worries about law and order, the lack of electricity and other essential services dampened any sense of euphoria. "Of course I'm happy that sanctions are going to be lifted, but what good is it if someone's kidnapping my daughter while I'm making more money?" asked Mohammed Sadiq Yassim, a Baghdad resident who owns one of the country's largest poultry businesses. Munthir Kamil, the owner of a food market in the capital's southern suburbs, was more upbeat. "We are a rich country and deserve to live better," he said. "Lifting the sanctions is the first move in this direction."

The sanctions, imposed as punishment after Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, hobbled Iraq's economy by denying it full access to the world market for crude oil. U.S. officials in Iraq said the country could begin exporting oil again within days, first by draining storage tanks and pipelines full of unsold crude and eventually by restoring production at wells that were shut down during the war. "We expect to be able to export by the first of June," said Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Steve Wright in Basra. "From the get-go, there's 7 million barrels of oil in storage. That's a start."

The resolution lifting sanctions, drafted by the U.S. and Britain, also allows U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to select a special representative to oversee the transition to democracy in Iraq. U.S. and British representatives agreed to strengthen the representative's role in coordinating humanitarian aid and in selecting an interim Iraqi government. "I know you are all anxious to know when I will name my special representative," Annan said after the meeting. "I will do it shortly, and he will go to Iraq as soon as possible." Annan was asked whether the resolution gives the U.N. more than a face-saving role. "I think the resolution does give a role to the United Nations," he said. "Obviously, the occupying power has a responsibility for the welfare and effective administration of the territory, and we have to work with them and the Iraqi people in implementing the mandate that we have been given. "We hope that we will be able to work in partnership," he added. In Los Angeles, British Charge d'Affaires Anthony Brenton said it was "very important that Kofi Annan appoints someone we, the occupying powers, can work with."

Brenton said Britain was pleased with the U.N. resolution, saying it gives firmer legal footing for U.S.-British reconstruction work in Iraq, starts oil exports and gives a framework for other countries to offer troops to help. Diplomatic sources have said many nations, particularly Eastern European countries and other newer members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, wanted to offer forces but were not comfortable doing so without diplomatic cover. The resolution also establishes a development fund for Iraq, to be maintained by the country's central bank. Oil revenue would be deposited in the fund and disbursed at the direction of the U.S.-British authority in consultation with Iraq's interim government. The "oil-for-food" program, through which Iraq was able to obtain food, medicine and other essentials, will be phased out over the next six months. The resolution gives the U.N. oversight of the repayment schedule for countries still owed money by Iraq under the program.

Iraq was producing as much as 2.5 million barrels of oil a day before the war, but its wells were shut down by U.S. and British forces as a precautionary measure. Production has since been restored to about 350,000 barrels a day, not quite enough to satisfy domestic needs. U.S. and Iraqi officials say they should be able to pump as much as 1 million barrels a day within a month or so. Exports would probably resume first from Turkey's port of Ceyhan, where storage facilities are full of crude oil that could not be sold since March because there was no recognized Iraqi government to sign contracts with buyers. In the south, contractors have not finished repairing damage to the 48-inch pipeline that carried crude oil from Iraq's prolific southern fields to tanker terminals in the port of Al Faw. The vital export artery was severed by an explosion at an aboveground valve near Basra. Officials said they were not sure whether the damage was caused by a coalition bomb or an act of sabotage.

At the pipeline repair site, a massive, $1-million replacement valve was being welded into place Thursday by blue-helmeted employees of Kharafi National, a Kuwaiti subcontractor hired by KBR, the Halliburton Co. subsidiary in charge of rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure. "We should be done by the end of the Friday evening late shift," said KBR project manager Phillip Pritchard, who said he was in no position to assess the strategic importance of the pipeline link to potential oil exports. "I'm just doing the work that's in front of me," Pritchard said.

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