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March 27, 2003
 
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(Reuters Photo)
UN Close to Vote on Revamping Iraq Oil, Food Plan

Reuters


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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 invaded Iraq.

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 food.

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 people.

"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.


photo credit and caption:
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 Tomasevic/Reuters

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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