UNITED NATIONS - In a victory for the United States, the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday giving the United Nations' backing to the U.S.-led administration of Iraq and lifting economic sanctions.
The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote, with Syria - the only Arab nation on the council - absent.
John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador, said that after more than a decade of being frozen out of the world economy by sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, "it is time for the Iraqi people to benefit from their natural resources," a reference to the country's vast oil wealth.
With passage of the resolution, the following steps are expected:
- The flow of oil exports will resume. There are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage points at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, one of Iraq's two export terminals, that can be sold immediately, diplomats said.
- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a special representative to work with U.S. and British administrators in running Iraq. Speculation for Annan's choice centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, who has Washington's support.
- The United States and Britain will take charge of a new Iraqi Development Fund, based at the Central Bank in Baghdad, controlling Iraqi oil revenues for use in rebuilding the country. The United Nations and other international bodies will monitor and audit the fund. It will get a $1 billion deposit, transferred from the U.N. oil-for-food account, as well as frozen Iraqi assets around the world which are required to be turned over by governments.
- The oil-for-food program will be phased out over the next six months. Annan will review $10 billion worth of contracts existing under the program to decide whether they are still needed. These contracts, many of them with Russian companies, range from food and medicine to plumbing and sanitation equipment, oil spare parts, and trucks.
- The resolution grants immunity from lawsuits involving future oil and natural gas sales until Dec. 31, 2007, to allow Iraq temporary relief from paying its estimated $400 billion debt and time to restructure the debt.
The final resolution represented a compromise, giving a somewhat stronger role to the United Nations in post-war Iraq. But it left the underlying goal of the United States and its allies intact: Washington and London, as occupying powers, remain firmly in control of Iraq and its oil wealth "until an internationally recognized, representative government is established."
Still, France, Russia and Germany - which earlier this year had led the fight against the U.S.-led war on Iraq - decided to back the resolution, taking "the path of unity of the international community," France's foreign minister said.
France was still concerned that the resolution would give the United States too much power, and French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere noted the resolution "is not perfect."
But "we believe it now provides a credible framework in which the international community can lend support to the Iraqi people," the ambassador said Thursday.
That marked a turnaround from the acrimonious debate before the war that has strained relations on the Security Council for months. In March, Russia, France and Germany succeeded in blocking a U.S.-backed resolution seeking authorization to attack Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had expressed hope for a unanimous 15-0 vote. Going into Thursday's session, only Syria's vote had been in doubt.
Earlier Thursday, Syrian diplomats asked the council for a little more time, not more than a few hours, because the "the relevant structures of the Syrian government" needed to make the decision, said Syria's deputy ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad.
"But there was insistence to go on with the vote without us," he told The Associated Press.
In the two weeks since the United States introduced it, the text of the resolution saw more than 90 changes, some of them to increase the U.N. role and the stature of the U.N. special representative in Iraq.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, standing beside his German and Russian counterparts in Paris, said late Wednesday the text "does not go as far as we had hoped."
But, he said, the three nations would back it because it "opens the road" for a central U.N. role. "The United Nations is back in the game," he said.
Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq and gave the victorious allies far more power than do international conventions dealing with occupying forces. Many also wanted the council to have a significant role in monitoring reconstruction.
Though Washington rejected any time limits on its administration of Iraq, it made a key concession, agreeing to let the Security Council "review the implementation of this resolution within 12 months of adoption and to consider further steps that might be necessary." The previous texts did not call for any U.N. review of the postwar Iraq operation.
Hinting at another concession to Russia and other council members, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said in a BBC interview late Wednesday that the coalition sees "a role for the U.N. inspectors ... in confirming that Iraq is free of any threat in the area of weapons of mass destruction."
Sanctions imposed on Saddam's regime after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 technically cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare it free of weapons of mass destruction. But the United States has refused to allow them to return.
The resolution lifts economic sanctions without certification from U.N. inspectors, but it reaffirms "that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the mandates of the U.N. inspectors later. It gives no time frame.
The Bush administration said this week that nuclear inspectors would be allowed to jointly inspect the looted nuclear research center at Tuwaitha.