Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US offers a compromise in bid to end Iraq sanctions

REUTERS , UNITED NATIONS

In hopes of getting strong UN support, the US made some concessions in its quest to lift 13-year-old trade sanctions against Iraq, somewhat enhancing the role of the UN and opening the door for the return of UN arms inspectors.

But the resolution, expected to be adopted by Friday, still gives the US and Britain wide-ranging powers to run Iraq and control its oil industry until a permanent government is established, which could take years.

The text, the third version distributed on Monday, seeks to accommodate some of the criticism by France, Russia, China and other UN Security Council members, particularly what they see as an attempt to sideline the UN but obtain privileges the world body has under international law.

While few expect any country to veto the text, the US wants a large majority in the 15-nation council.

Without UN action to lift the sanctions, imposed when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, Washington would be in a legal no man's land, with many firms unwilling to engage in trade with Iraq, and oil exports open to lawsuits.

Russia's UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said he "welcomed the mood of the co-sponsors to really try their best to respond to as many question as they can." But he said council members wanted "more clarity" at the lack of any time limit or renewal of the resolution.

In deference to Russia, which was favored in contracts by the ousted government of President Saddam Hussein, the resolution phases out the existing UN-run oil and civilian supply network over six months instead of four months.

It does not guarantee that all contracts in the so-called oil-for-food pipeline will be honored, such as the US$4 billion owed Russian firms, but leaves time to sort them out.

On the political role of the UN, the draft calls for a high-level special representative with "independent responsibilities." The envoy would "work intensively" with the US and Britain "to facilitate a process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq" but his or her duties are still vague.

US Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington could offer further changes but it was unlikely. "Never say never," he said. "But ... we have gone just about as far as we can in meeting the concerns expressed by other delegations."

The resolution, he said, foresaw no role for UN arms inspectors. But the new text mentions their mandate in UN resolutions since 1991, and opens the door for their return to verify Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Most controversial is shielding Iraq's oil revenues and a special Development Fund set up to administer them until 2008 from any lawsuits, attachments or claims. This is usual for a fund administered by the UN but not one over which the world body has no power.

However, the new text says buyers of Iraqi oil are not necessarily immune from suits, such as cases of oil spills.

Money from the fund can be spent by the US and Britain for the benefit of the Iraqi people. An international board, including the UN, will monitor the fund.

Troubling to international law experts is the rewriting of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the duties of occupying powers, such as the US and Britain. They are not supposed to create a new permanent government or commit Iraq to long-term contracts, such as oil exploration, under the Geneva treaties.

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