- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

BERLIN — Germany yesterday agreed with the United States that U.N. sanctions on Iraq should be lifted “as soon as possible,” but it stopped short of endorsing a revised U.S.-sponsored resolution presented yesterday to the Security Council to do just that.

France, Russia and China also expressed reservations about the new draft resolution, which sets out a U.N. role in the reconstruction of Iraq, but still reserves wide-ranging authority over Iraq’s political administration and oil wealth to the United States and its coalition allies.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell concluded a trip to Russia, Bulgaria and Germany — all council members — optimistic that Washington will gather enough support for its modified draft to bring it to a vote “in the next several days or a week.”

During the highest-level visit by a Bush administration official to Germany since the war in Iraq, which opened a serious rift between the two countries, Mr. Powell and his hosts, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, repeatedly stressed their willingness to improve their relationship.

The lingering effect of the estrangement, however, was visible when Mr. Powell, replying to a question as to whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroeder would meet at the upcoming Group of 8 summit in Switzerland, said there were no plans to do so. He cited the limited time available.

Mr. Schroeder opened his statement to reporters after meeting with Mr. Powell with a conciliatory and affirmative remark: “We are of the opinion that the sanctions that were imposed in the past no longer have any meaning and that they should be lifted as soon as possible.”

But later, Mr. Fischer refrained from backing the entire draft resolution, which would also appoint a U.N. coordinator in Baghdad and would allow Iraq to sell its oil on the open market rather than through the soon-to-expire oil-for-food program.

“The current resolution is a good basis on which we can continue discussions, and the talks we’ve had today have made it clear that we are in a good way toward an agreement,” the minister told reporters after a lunch with his guest. “We have an interest in bringing about a successful outcome.”

Both the U.S. and German officials said they expected the Security Council to come together and end the sanctions regime, rather than repeat the fights before the war.

“Together, we came to the conclusion that it makes sense to come together in New York at the United Nations headquarters and, if possible, to develop a unanimous position,” Mr. Schroeder said.

But statements from leaders in other capitals made it clear that hard bargaining remained.

The debate over ending sanctions against Iraq has become a proxy for a larger international battle over who will steer Iraq’s future, with leading antiwar powers such as France and Russia seeking to use their vetoes in the Security Council as leverage to influence events and protect their interests in Baghdad.

All agree that the sanctions imposed on the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein since the 1991 Gulf war should be lifted, but France and Russia have argued that the embargoes should not end until U.N. arms inspectors can ascertain the country no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said his country and China are in agreement that the proposed resolution needed “serious amendments,” including provisions on how to phase out the oil-for-food program.

“Above all, there is setting the moment when power in Iraq will be handed over to a legally elected government, and also in what manner and on what terms the oil-for-food program will be replaced by the lifting of sanctions,” Mr. Fedotov told the Interfax news agency.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters that “this text can be markedly improved further.”

A French government spokesman said Paris would propose amendments to the text, but did not detail the changes.

Mr. Powell during the trip expressed an openness to French and Russian suggestions that the sanctions be suspended rather than terminated, but U.S. officials still are pushing strongly for a complete end to the sanctions to promote the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy and end international legal uncertainties over signing contracts with the new authority in Baghdad.

Mr. Schroeder’s staunch opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq during his re-election campaign last fall deeply angered the Bush administration, and Mr. Powell’s trip was seen as an effort by both sides to mend fences.

“Our conversation was direct and candid, as befits two friends and two allies,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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