— By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council was close on
Friday in tapping billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to
purchase food and medicine in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis
in the week-old war.
German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger, who led negotiations on
revamping the U.N. oil-for-food program, said he expected a vote on
Friday. But diplomats said a delay was possible as governments of
the 15 council members studied the resolution.
"Our initial assessment is positive," said a U.S. official late
on Thursday. "We worked hard on it. We are still awaiting final
clearance from Washington."
The program, which began in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell
oil to purchase food, medicine and a host of civilian supplies under
U.N. supervision. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended the
program and evacuated more than 300 relief workers who monitor the
distribution of supplies shortly before U.S. and British forces
Annan, the United States and Britain had asked the council to
ensure that nearly $10 billion in goods Iraq ordered and already
approved, including $2.4 billion for food, can enter the country
when conditions allow
The resolution would authorize Annan, for the next 45 days, to
make "technological and temporary adjustments" to the program, such
as reviewing Iraq's contracts to make sure health supplies and
foodstuffs had priority.
"This is the biggest humanitarian assistance program in the
history of the United Nations," said Pleuger. "You can imagine that
there are a lot of practical problems to be solved."
The program is by far the largest in relief goods available to
Iraq, including contributions from the United States and Britain..
It was instituted to ease the impact of U.N. sanctions, imposed when
Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
Some 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people are solely dependent
on rations from the oil-for-food plan.
In addition to this program, the United Nations on Friday
launches a $2.1 million appeal for Iraqi civilians to cover a host
of other emergency needs, such as refugees. U.N. officials estimate
they may have to help 350,000 refugees with everything from tents to
But the resolution makes clear that the chief responsibility for
addressing humanitarian consequences of the war would fall to the
United States and Britain if they take control of the country. It
refers to the 1949 Fourth Geneva convention on the responsibilities
of the "occupying power."
Anger over the war spilled into negotiations over the
oil-for-food program as well as into an open Security Council
meeting. On Thursday. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte walked out in
the middle of a speech by Iraq's chief envoy, Mohammed Aldouri, who
accused the United States of trying to exterminate the Iraqi
"I'd heard enough after a certain amount of time and I didn't
hear anything new," Negroponte said later
And in heated private negotiations, Russian and Syrian
representatives argued against a mention in the resolution of
coordination with "relevant authorities," which they feared might
legitimize the invasion or a U.S.-installed government.
The draft papers over the differences by omitting any reference
of coordination with the United States or Britain in Iraq and speaks
only about "the necessary coordination."
Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said
after meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat that adoption
of the measure was crucial.
Before returning to London, Blair visited the United Nations on
Thursday to confer with Annan. Aides told them during the talks that
the resolution could be put to a vote on Friday and "they welcomed
the progress achieved on that front," a U.N. statement said.
|Iraqis carry the body of an
Iraqi man, who Iraqi authorities say was killed in recent air
strikes in Baghdad March 26, 2003. At least 15 burnt corpses
lay in a popular residential area of Baghdad, apparently
killed in a U.S.-led bombing or missile raid on the Iraqi
capital, Reuters Television correspondents said. An Iraqi
Information Ministry official said a strike on a busy market
area had caused "many, many casualties.' Photo by Goran
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