Bowing to objections from Russia and other supporters of Iraq, the Security Council informally agreed Thursday to defer for a month consideration of a new U.S.-British proposal to streamline sanctions on Iraq.
Today, the council's 15 members are expected to vote to extend the current "oil-for-food" program until July 3 while they continue to debate if and how they should restructure the U.N.'s Iraq policy. The U.S. had initially hoped to implement the new proposal by next Monday, when a new six-month phase of Iraq's oil-for-food program was set to begin.
Russia had lobbied to delay consideration of the proposal for six months but finally agreed to 30 days, allowing all parties to claim victory in the debate.
Russia and China said they needed more time to scrutinize the plan, which would ease sanctions on imports of civilian goods while tightening control of weapons-related materials. Their main concern is a draft 27-page list of "controlled" items that would be subject to special review before going into Iraq because of possible military uses.
"The list is way too long and enters into areas that are currently not covered by the sanctions, like telecommunications, civil aviation equipment and fiber optics," said Russian Ambassador Sergei V. Lavrov, Iraq's strongest ally on the council. "And second, the procedures are not clear at all."
Lavrov called the one-month extension "a reasonable compromise." But he added that Russia's agreement to continue the discussion for a month did not mean it would then be ready to take action. "There is no commitment on the part of anybody to vote on the 3rd of July," he said.
Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., Mohammed Douri, said that Baghdad rejected the new proposals and would cut off oil exports if the oil-for-food program were extended for just a month--a move expected to cause oil prices to rise.
"If the new resolution is adopted, Iraq will not deal with it," he said Thursday afternoon as Security Council members met. "Consequently, Iraq will not conclude any oil contract based on it, and this resolution for us will be just another dead resolution."
The delay is a serious setback for one of Washington's first foreign policy initiatives, which is designed to improve a sanctions program seen at the U.N. as hurting the Iraqi people more than it does President Saddam Hussein's ability to pursue a weapons program.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made his first overseas trip in February to win support for U.S. efforts to revitalize the policy, which was facing increased opposition among three of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members--Russia, China and France--as well as from the former coalition that forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991.
En route back from talks this week with the Russian, French and British foreign ministers in Budapest, Hungary, Powell said he had won "general agreement" from the three permanent Security Council members on a "clear political direction" as the basis for a new sanctions policy. China, the only council member not present, joined the broad consensus after being briefed.
"The difficulty of course is in the details--the lists [of goods to be sanctioned] and how one looks at these various lists," he told reporters.
Russia, China and France, for example, would like to see equipment that can be used for the oil industry, such as fiber optics or heavy transport, go through without examination. But fiber optics can be used for a military radar system as easily as telecommunications, and large trucks can carry tanks as well as oil equipment, U.S. officials say.
The divisions are even deeper on a critical new element of U.S. strategy--how to cut off Iraq's escalating oil smuggling through Iran, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. U.S. officials conceded Thursday that the United States may have to wait for a separate resolution that would take even longer to sort out, because of the complicated tasks of monitoring Iraq's oil smuggling and compensating countries reliant on that oil.
Jordan, Syria and Turkey have expressed concern about potential holes in the proposed system. They are also alarmed about the disproportionately heavy burden they would have to shoulder both in providing checkpoints to monitor goods going to Iraq and in the higher cost of buying oil that Iraq now provides at a discount.
"The new resolution would put an additional burden on us," said Murat Karagoz, a Turkish political officer at the United Nations. Turkey has applied to the U.N. for compensation for $35 billion in losses it claims to have incurred by complying with sanctions against Iraq.
"The United States has not yet come up with answers to the big issues raised by the changing sanctions," said a senior Middle East envoy who asked not to be identified.
Iraq's neighbors are worried about a public backlash against cooperation with the United States. "People on the streets are not going to allow it. We'll be seen as collaborating against a fellow Arab country, while nothing is being done on the Palestinian front," said another Middle East diplomat.
The State Department said Thursday that "auxiliary procedures" are still being worked out, including how to stop smuggling, how to respond if Iraq retaliates by cutting off oil, and sources of compensation for front-line countries that face losses.
But U.S. officials claim they are still optimistic about winning support for the new strategy.
Farley reported from the U.N. and Wright from Washington.