- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Swift approval of President Bush's call to lift U.N. sanctions on Iraq appeared unlikely yesterday, with France seeking more time and Russia raising technical objections.

Those two countries, along with Germany, led resistance in the U.N. Security Council last month to a second resolution explicitly authorizing the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Paris said yesterday that ending the sanctions should be part of the bigger issue of establishing a "central role" for the world organization in Iraq, which has yet to be defined.

Moscow said that, according to Security Council Resolution 687 of 1991, the sanctions can be suspended only after Iraq meets several conditions, one of which is declaring the country free of weapons of mass destruction, which has not yet taken place.

The Bush administration privately expressed some irritation with the two veto-holding council members, which had argued before the war for easing the economic restrictions on Iraq. But in public, officials expressed confidence that they will be able to negotiate a new resolution.

"For governments who wanted to lift sanctions on Saddam Hussein to be suddenly saying, 'You can't lift sanctions because Saddam is gone' it strikes us as pretty weird," a senior State Department official said.

"So we want people to understand that the situation is different," he said. "The guys we were trying to shackle into compliance [with U.N. resolutions] are no longer there.

"The prospect of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction has considerably improved, and one can have a certain amount of trust in those who are carrying out the job."

On Wednesday, Mr. Bush said, "Now that Iraq is liberated, the United Nations should lift economic sanctions on that country," and a White House spokesman said the administration would seek a U.N. resolution in the near future.

Russia and France have in the past consistently lobbied for sanctions to be lifted, citing the suffering of the Iraqi people. Critics said they also hoped to benefit from oil contracts for their firms.

Yesterday, Moscow said it was in the interests of the international community for the sanctions to be removed as soon as possible but insisted that cannot happen until conditions laid out in past Security Council resolutions are met.

"For the Security Council to take this decision, we need to be certain whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Moscow.

Other conditions set out in Resolution 687 include the return of property stolen from Kuwait in 1991, an accounting for hundreds of Kuwaitis abducted then, and the payment to Kuwait of reparations for damage to its environment.

But U.S. officials said they were consulting with council members on measures that would address the new realities in Iraq.

"We'll be working with the Security Council to ensure that the economic sanctions that were imposed because of the behavior of the Saddam Hussein regime are lifted … so that the aspirations and needs of the Iraqi people can be met," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

The sanctions, which were imposed after Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, initially barred all trade and financial dealings with Iraq except for humanitarian purposes.

They were eased in 1995 with the introduction of a complex and closely monitored oil-for-food program, under which oil was sold and the proceeds were used to buy food, medicine and other civilian goods.

Last month, the Security Council put U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in charge of the program until mid-May, when a new decision about its future will have to be made.

French President Jacques Chirac said at a European Union summit in Athens yesterday that "lifting sanctions is a goal we have supported for a long time." But he added that it is up to the United Nations to define how that will be done.

Mr. Chirac and his EU colleagues, worried that the suspension of the sanctions would reduce the influence of the United Nations in Iraq's future, said the issue should be discussed in the context of a comprehensive plan for a "central" U.N. role.

Mr. Bush's top security advisers, known as the principals, yesterday postponed a meeting that reportedly was to have discussed retaliation against France for its opposition to the Iraq war. The news agency Agence France-Press said the meeting was called off after protests from the French government.

The group includes Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Meanwhile, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, who is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Tuesday, yesterday urged that the U.S.-led forces in Iraq allow the return of his team.

"The alliance arrived as a liberator and an occupier, and that can have its disadvantages. If their experts actually find weapons of mass destruction, their veracity could be doubted," he said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel.

"Therefore, I'm in favor of having these tasks put back under the responsibility of specialists with international legitimacy," he said.

"We have never claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, although we could not rule it out. Now we will see if London and Washington were right. I'm very curious and can only wish them luck with their search."

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