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U.S.-British rule of postwar Iraq gets Security Council backing

Friday, May 23, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- Putting aside bitter divisions over the Iraqi war, the U.N. Security Council gave the United States and Britain a mandate Thursday to govern Iraq and use its oil riches to rebuild the country. The resolution opened the door to a quick resumption of oil exports.

The 14-0 vote was a victory for the Bush administration, which won the backing of the chief opponents to the Iraq war -- France, Russia and Germany -- even though those nations felt the United Nations wound up with too little say in shaping Iraq's future.

Syria, the sole Arab country on the council, was absent during the vote.

But Syria's deputy U.N. ambassador Fayssal Mekdad announced in the council Thursday afternoon that his government would have voted in favor of the resolution if the vote had been delayed for a few hours as he requested. He said he wanted the record to reflect that the vote would have been unanimous.

The resolution immediately ends economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, opening the country to international trade and investment.

"It's a wonderful day for the Iraqi people," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Paris.

"Now they can see the benefits of liberation as other nations come to help with restoring stability, peacekeeping operations and reconstruction."

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

Iraq can resume oil exports, halted since before the war. There are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage tanks at the Turkish port of Ceyhan 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 on humanitarian aid, reconstruction and the creation of a new Iraqi government. 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.

A newly created Development Fund for Iraq will start receiving proceeds from oil sales. The United States and Britain will be in charge of using the fund to rebuild the country. A new advisory body including the United Nations and international financial institutions will oversee the fund. It will get a $1 billion deposit, transferred from the U.N. oil-for-food account.

Governments must freeze Iraqi assets belonging to Saddam Hussein or his government and transfer them to the fund unless they are subject to legal claims.

The oil-for-food program, which required Iraqi oil revenue to be used primarily to buy humanitarian supplies, 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.

Left unclear is the issue of U.N. weapons inspections. Under the 1990 resolution imposing sanctions, U.N. inspectors had to certify that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction before sanctions could be lifted.

The resolution ends sanctions without that certification. But it reaffirms that "Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the inspectors' mandate later. It gives no time frame.

Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq. 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."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said Thursday the occupation would last "as short a time as possible."

After two weeks of negotiations, the final resolution also didn't give the United Nations the lead role in putting together a new Iraqi government, as Russia, France and Germany pushed for, or set a definite time limit for the occupation of Iraq to end.

Still, France, Russia and Germany -- which months ago blocked U.S. efforts to win U.N. approval for an invasion of Iraq -- said that at least the United Nations now has its foot in the door.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said the final version "is not perfect." But, he said Thursday, "it now provides a credible framework in which the international community can lend support to the Iraqi people."

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

"This is a compromise, and in a compromise, no one gets all that they want," Annan said after the vote. "The resolution gives the international community a legal basis for its activity in Iraq. ... We will go ahead and do our work."

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

The fight over whether to launch a war on Iraq had torn apart the Security Council. Now, faced with the reality of Saddam's ouster and U.S.-led troops controlling Iraq, all sides had wanted to avoid a repeat of the bitterness.

Only Syria's vote had remained a question mark. Ahead of the Thursday morning session, Syrian diplomats asked for a delay of a few hours so the top leadership in Damascus could decide its stance.

But "there was insistence to go on with the vote," said Syria's Mekdad.

In the two weeks since the United States introduced it, the text of the resolution saw more than 90 changes.

The U.N. political role in Iraq was strengthened somewhat. Instead of a U.N. "special coordinator" as initial drafts called for, Annan is appointing a "special representative" -- a higher status.

The representative will have "independent responsibility" and work "intensively" with the United States, Britain and the Iraqi people "to facilitate a process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq."


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