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UN Extends Oil-for-Food Scheme; US Wins Compromise

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POLITICS - U.N. Extends Oil-for-Food Scheme; U.S. Wins Compromise

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 4 (IPS) - The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Wednesday to resume the supply of humanitarian goods to Iraq for another six months, despite strong opposition from the United States.

The vote came after week-long intense negotiations between the United States and other Council members, including Britain, the closest U.S. ally on the 15-member body, who insisted that Iraq's food for oil programme should continue for another six months.

The last-minute change in the U.S. position caught many by surprise. "t's better than what anybody expected,"said a British diplomat who closely watched the talks.

"t's a victory for common sense, it's a victory for the Security Council, it's a victory for the Iraqi people,"said Sergey Lavrov, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, whose country led the push on the Council to continue the humanitarian programme unhindered.

Under the plan, Iraq is allowed to import food, medicines and other essential goods in return for exporting some of its oil. The strategy was initiated by the United Nations in 1995 after the U.N. Fund for Children (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) documented how economic sanctions had caused disease and hunger in the country on a massive scale.

Last week, the United States surprised the Council by insisting that it would not support a vote to extend the six-year-old programme for the customary six months unless it could first review the extensive list of banned items.

The move came the day the programme was set to expire, so the Council was forced to extend the plan for only nine days, until Wednesday's vote.

"his is a success for the humanitarian attitude in the Security Council,"said Syria's Ambassador Mikhail Wehbi after the decision.

But the decision includes a compromise. Though Ionths.

The last-minute change in the U.S. position caught many by surprise. "t's better than what anybody expected,"said a British diplomat who closely watched the talks.

"t's a victory for common sense, it's a victory for the Security Council, it's a victory for the Iraqi people,"said Sergey Lavrov, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, whose country led the push on the Council to continue the humanitarian programme unhindered.

Under the plan, Iraq is allowed to import food, medicines and other essential goods in return for exporting some of its oil. The strategy was initiated by the United Nations in 1995 after the U.N. Fund for Children (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) documented how economic sanctions had caused disease and hunger in the country on a massive scale.

Last week, the United States surprised the Council by insisting that it would not support a vote to extend the six-year-old programme for the customary six months unless it could first review the extensive list of banned items.

The move came the day the programme was set to expire, so the Council was forced to extend the plan for only nine days, until Wednesday's vote.

"his is a success for the humanitarian attitude in the Security Council,"said Syria's Ambassador Mikhail Wehbi after the decision.

But the decision includes a compromise. Though Iraq is allowed to import humanitarian goods for another six months, the Council is empowered by the new resolution to make changes to the list of prohibited items within 30 days, a provision that supports the U.S. position.

"e must ensure the integrity of the export control system we have created,"said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. "hanges are needed on an urgent basis. It's imperative that Iraq not be able to take advantage of the loopholes or omissions in the goods review list."

"he United States' objective has been very clear,"he added: Washington wanted to continue the humanitarian programme for Iraqi civilians, while strengthening the goods review and its procedures to "nsure that Baghdad does not manipulate the programme"

Diplomats say that Washington failed to put further pressure on the Council because officials at the State Department and Pentagon were still busy finalising the list of humanitarian goods that they want to ban as the Council was preparing for its vote Wednesday.

The resolution says the Council has decided to consider "ecessary adjustments"to the Goods Review List and procedures for its implementation, for adoption no more than 30 days from today.

In addition, it asks Secretary General Kofi Annan to provide a comprehensive report to the Council a week before the end of the 180-day period, based on observations ofraq is allowed to import humanitarian goods for another six months, the Council is empowered by the new resolution to make changes to the list of prohibited items within 30 days, a provision that supports the U.S. position.

"e must ensure the integrity of the export control system we have created,"said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. "hanges are needed on an urgent basis. It's imperative that Iraq not be able to take advantage of the loopholes or omissions in the goods review list."

"he United States' objective has been very clear,"he added: Washington wanted to continue the humanitarian programme for Iraqi civilians, while strengthening the goods review and its procedures to "nsure that Baghdad does not manipulate the programme"

Diplomats say that Washington failed to put further pressure on the Council because officials at the State Department and Pentagon were still busy finalising the list of humanitarian goods that they want to ban as the Council was preparing for its vote Wednesday.

The resolution says the Council has decided to consider "ecessary adjustments"to the Goods Review List and procedures for its implementation, for adoption no more than 30 days from today.

In addition, it asks Secretary General Kofi Annan to provide a comprehensive report to the Council a week before the end of the 180-day period, based on observations of U.N. personnel in Iraq in consultation with the Iraqi government, on whether Iraq has ensured the equitable distribution of medicines, food and other humanitarian items.

Earlier today, most Council members had rejected the U.S. position by arguing that they had already reviewed the 300-page list of banned items over many months last year. Under the new resolution, the Council is bound to review the list of banned goods in the next 30 days.

U.S. media reports claim that Washington wants to add about 40 items to a list of goods that Iraq is not allowed to import under the programme. U.S. officials contend that certain humanitarian goods, including geo-positioning devices and a variety of medicines, could be used as antidotes during any chemical or biological warfare.

Until a few hours before Wednesday's vote, many members seemed frustrated by the U.S. insistence on changes to the list. "his is very unfortunate,"said Lavrov shortly before the vote. "e should not send wrong signals, especially when we are talking about the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."

"t's very difficult to review the list in 15 days,"said Wehbi earlier today. "raq has accepted everything: the resolution 1441, the inspections. We should not add more to the difficulties of Iraqi people."

Last month, UNICEF said the oil for food programme had helped reduce child malnu U.N. personnel in Iraq in consultation with the Iraqi government, on whether Iraq has ensured the equitable distribution of medicines, food and other humanitarian items.

Earlier today, most Council members had rejected the U.S. position by arguing that they had already reviewed the 300-page list of banned items over many months last year. Under the new resolution, the Council is bound to review the list of banned goods in the next 30 days.

U.S. media reports claim that Washington wants to add about 40 items to a list of goods that Iraq is not allowed to import under the programme. U.S. officials contend that certain humanitarian goods, including geo-positioning devices and a variety of medicines, could be used as antidotes during any chemical or biological warfare.

Until a few hours before Wednesday's vote, many members seemed frustrated by the U.S. insistence on changes to the list. "his is very unfortunate,"said Lavrov shortly before the vote. "e should not send wrong signals, especially when we are talking about the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."

"t's very difficult to review the list in 15 days,"said Wehbi earlier today. "raq has accepted everything: the resolution 1441, the inspections. We should not add more to the difficulties of Iraqi people."

Last month, UNICEF said the oil for food programme had helped reduce child malnutrition in Iraq, but warned "here are still close to one million children under the age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition in Iraq today - that's nearly a quarter of all children of that age."

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