The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday extending the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq and setting the stage for an overhaul of U.N. sanctions against Baghdad next year.
The resolution was drafted by the United States and Russia, which have been feuding over policy toward Iraq for several years, and marked another sign of growing cooperation between Washington and Moscow, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Disputes over Iraq have usually left extension of the oil-for-food humanitarian program to the last moment. But the U.S.-Russian compromise enabled the council to approve a six-month extension a day before the current phase expires at midnight Friday.
Tunisia had threatened to block consensus unless the council included a provision authorizing the return to Iraq of civilian aircraft stranded in Tunisia and Jordan since the 1991 Gulf War. But it dropped the demand after behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure from Washington, Western diplomats said.
The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil on condition that the proceeds are spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, and war reparations.
U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham said Wednesday after the council discussed the resolution that the United States was pleased with the resolution.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said, "We are satisfied."
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad al-Douri said Baghdad will decide whether to accept the resolution once the council adopts it.
"I strongly urge them to accept," Lavrov said. "The resolution extends the humanitarian program for six months. They need the humanitarian program."
Moscow stands to lose lucrative contracts if it opposes Baghdad and had balked at any change in the program. About 40 percent of Iraq's oil contracts go through Russian middlemen.
Despite threats from Washington, Iraq has repeatedly refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country, insisting sanctions be suspended first.
Under the compromise, Russia agreed to approve by May 30 a new list of goods that would need U.N. review before shipment to Iraq, a key feature of an earlier U.S.-British proposal to overhaul sanctions.
The United States in turn agreed to Russia's long-standing demand for "a comprehensive settlement" of the sanctions issue including steps that would lead to lifting the military embargo imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"I think it means that starting on June 1, there will be a new system in place that will enable us finally to achieve...a greatly improved oil-for-food program and greatly facilitated implementation of the sanctions regime," Cunningham said.
When the program came up for renewal last June, the United States and Britain tried to include a sanctions overhaul plan tightening the military embargo on Saddam Hussein's regime and clamping down on Iraqi oil smuggling while easing the flow of civilia goods into Iraq.
A list of dual-use and military-related goods that would need review was a key part of the proposal.
Iraq shut off oil supplies for a month in June until it was sure Russia would reject an overhaul of the sanctions, which it believes only make them more permanent.
Washington and London shelved the plan when the Russians threatened a veto.
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