Council approves revamping of U.N. sanctions against Iraq
UNITED NATIONS -- A unified Security Council revamped U.N. sanctions against Iraq Tuesday to speed the delivery of food and medicine and also strengthen an 11-year-old military embargo.
The 15-0 vote was hailed by the United States but denounced by Iraq.
The resolution adopted by the council extends the U.N. oil-for-food program for six months -- until Nov. 30. It represents the greatest change in the humanitarian program since its launch in 1996 to help Iraq's people cope with sanctions imposed after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The resolution allows the free flow of most civilian goods into Iraq while simultaneously using a 332-page checklist to address concerns by the United States and other council members that Iraq diverts civilian goods to military use.
The resolution requires U.N. approval for delivery of civilian goods with possible military applications, including high-speed computers, sprayers that could disperse chemical weapons and heavy-duty trucks that could transport tanks.
"This will help us lower the risks" of military diversion, a senior State Department official said in Washington on condition of anonymity.
The oil-for-food program has expanded from food and medicine to cover such public services as education and water supply. It has become the mainstay of the Iraqi economy and is funded by oil sales.
Currently, the U.N. committee monitoring the sanctions must approve most contracts for humanitarian goods. But any Security Council member can put a contract on hold.
Billions on hold
More than $5 billion in contracts currently are on hold -- by the United States and Britain -- on grounds that the goods potentially have military uses. Iraq has criticized the Western allies for denying it crucial humanitarian supplies.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the new resolution taking effect May 30 focuses more "on products and services that could contribute to a weapons of mass destruction program."
"It will facilitate greatly the movement of humanitarian and purely civilian goods to the Iraq economy," he said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the vote "a step forward for the Iraqi people" and said it "eliminates excuses for inaction or evasion of U.N. sanctions on Iraq.
"For this new system to be effective in bringing help to the people of Iraq, there must be a real commitment by the government of Iraq to this same goal," Fleischer said. "Now Iraq's government has the opportunity to prove that it seeks the same benefits for all its citizens."
But Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Al-Douri said the new review list complicates the delivery of humanitarian items and "will prevent any development of the Iraqi economy" by blocking the import of agricultural, electrical and sanitation equipment.
"This is a new harassment on the Iraqi people," he said.
Al-Douri also said his government was "unhappy" with any resolution not lifting sanctions.