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U.N. Lifts Iraqi Sanctions

U.N. Lifts Iraqi Sanctions

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- In a victory for the United States, the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday empowering the United States and Britain to govern Iraq and use its oil wealth to rebuild the country.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote, with Syria -- the only Arab nation on the council -- absent.

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador, said that after more than a decade of being frozen out of the world economy by sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, "it is time for the Iraqi people to benefit from their natural resources," a reference to the country's vast oil wealth.

The near unanimous vote was a turnaround from the bitter acrimony that split the council before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The resolution represented a compromise that was backed even by France, which still felt it gave the United States too much power in Iraq.

With passage of the resolution, the following steps are expected:

-- The flow of oil exports will resume. There are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage points at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, one of Iraq's two export terminals, that can be sold immediately, diplomats said.

-- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a special representative to work with U.S. and British administrators in running Iraq. Speculation for Annan's choice centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, who has Washington's support.

-- The United States and Britain will take charge of a new Iraqi Development Fund controlling Iraqi oil revenues for use in rebuilding the country. The United Nations and other international bodies will monitor and audit the fund. It will get a $1 billion deposit, transferred from the U.N. oil-for-food account, as well as frozen Iraqi assets around the world, which are required to be turned over by governments.

-- The oil-for-food program will be phased out over the next six months. Annan will review $10 billion worth of contracts existing under the program to decide whether they are still needed. These contracts, many of them with Russian companies, range from food and medicine to plumbing and sanitation equipment, oil spare parts, and trucks.

-- The resolution grants immunity from lawsuits involving future oil and natural gas sales until Dec. 31, 2007, to allow Iraq temporary relief from paying its estimated $400 billion debt and time to restructure the debt.

After two months of negotiations over the resolution, the final resultleft the underlying goal of the United States and its allies intact: Washington and London, as occupying powers, remain firmly in control of Iraq "until an internationally recognized, representative government is established."

In Washington, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The president is very grateful that the world has come together to lift the sanctions on the long-suffering Iraqi people."

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere noted Thursday that the resolution "is not perfect."

Still, France, Russia and Germany -- the three nations that earlier this year led the fight against the U.S.-led war on Iraq -- decided to back the resolution even though the wanted the United Nations to have a stronger role.

The resolution "does not go as far as we had hoped," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Wedneday. But, he said, it "opens the road" for a central U.N. role.

"I think the resolution gives the international community a legal basis for its activities in Iraq," Annan told reporters after the vote. "We will go ahead and do our work."

Secretary of State Colin Powell had expressed hope for a unanimous 15-0 vote. Going into Thursday's session, only Syria's vote had been in doubt.

Earlier Thursday, Syrian diplomats asked the council for a few more hours so the leadership in Damascus could take a decision, but "there was insistence to go on with the vote," said Syria's deputy ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad.

Ahead of the vote, Syria's official media criticized the resolution. The state-run Al-Thawra newspaper said in an editorial that it was intended to "control Iraq's wealth and manage it contrary to the people's will."

In the two weeks since the United States introduced it, the text of the resolution saw more than 90 changes. The changes strengthen the U.N. role in establishing a democratic government and increase the stature of the U.N. special representative, who was given independent authority.

Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq and gave the victorious allies far more power than do international conventions dealing with occupying forces.

Though Washington rejected any time limits, it made a key concession, agreeing to let the Security Council review implementation of the resolution after a year and "consider further steps."

Negroponte and Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said Thursday they would report to the council quarterly. Greenstock said the occupation would last "as short a time as possible."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said his government was "pleased at the results" of the negotiations.

Hinting at another concession, Greenstock said in a BBC interview late Wednesday that the coalition sees "a role for the U.N. inspectors ... in confirming that Iraq is free of any threat in the area of weapons of mass destruction."

Under previous resolutions, sanctions imposed on Saddam's regime after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 could not be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare it free of weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday's resolution lifts economic sanctions without certification from inspectors but reaffirms "that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the inspectors' mandate later. It gives no time frame.

Washington has so far ruled out the return of U.N. inspectors who before the war searched for Iraqi biological and chemical weapons. U.S. officials criticized those inspectors for not more strongly backing claims that such weapons exist. American teams have been conducting the search since Saddam's fall.

But the Bush administration said this week that nuclear inspectors would be allowed to jointly inspect the looted nuclear research center at Tuwaitha.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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