U.S. wants to lift Iraqi sanctions in stages

It's unclear if proposal will float with members of U.N. Security Council

War In Iraq

April 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is preparing a proposal to lift international sanctions on Iraq in phases, retaining U.N. supervision of Iraq's oil sales for now but transferring other parts of its economy to a new Iraqi authority in coming months, administration officials said yesterday.

The officials said that instead of a single Security Council resolution to lift sanctions on Iraq, the United States would seek three or four resolutions over several months, gradually turning over parts of the economy to an Iraqi authority assembled with U.S. guidance.

The step-by-step approach was described as the latest U.S. tactic to counter assertions by France, Russia and other Security Council members that they would oppose lifting sanctions without a broader role for the United Nations than the one envisioned by Washington.

At least in theory, France and Russia could veto the lifting of sanctions, giving them considerable leverage even though they opposed the war. Some in the Bush administration say they fear a messy situation in which lawsuits would be filed by those arguing that any oil sales in defiance of sanctions would be a violation of international law.

"Nobody wants to have litigation on this," said an administration official. "But the sanctions have to be modified or you can't have a reconstruction of Iraq."

This official, like others interviewed on yesterday, requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject and the fact that many aspects are unresolved.

How to approach this issue has been a matter of considerable debate in an administration that has long been riven ideologically on the issue of the United Nations. The Pentagon has favored a minimal role for the United Nations, but the State Department argues that its role is essential to lending legitimacy to a postwar Iraqi government.

"For a while there was a lot of talk about one omnibus Security Council resolution on Iraq," said a senior administration official. "We're now thinking in terms of several resolutions and letting Iraqis build their economy in phases before they get full control of the oil."

It was not clear, however, whether the latest administration approach would win any support from Security Council members who remain bitter about the administration's decision to go to war without the council's authorization.

U.N. diplomats say there is confusion over how to return Iraq to normal status now that the war is over. France has asked for a "central" role for the United Nations, and President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain say they want a "vital" role. But little has been put in writing.

"The U.S. is facing a pretty stiff resistance from other members of the council on this," a European diplomat said. "The U.S. position is, `We're there in Iraq and it's going to be our effort, and maybe someone from the U.N. can come in and give it a blessing.' That's not going to fly."

One of the most difficult issues, expected to surface next week, is deciding the next phase of the multibillion-dollar Oil for Food Program, in which oil is sold and the proceeds are used for medicine and food for Iraqis. At present, the program distributes at least some food to 90 percent of Iraqis.

Before the war, the Oil for Food program was jointly supervised by Iraq and the United Nations. When the war began, the Security Council authorized Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take it over.

Now some in the Bush administration would like parts of it turned back to Iraq. Others argue that such a step is impractical because of the vast complexity of the program. Hundreds of contracts have been let to sell the oil and bring food, medicine, trucks and other supplies into the country.

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