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US seeks oil control for a year

United Nations, May 9 (Reuters): The US and Britain tried to convince the UN Security Council today to end 12 years of UN sanctions against Iraq and give them broad control of the country’s oil for at least a year.

The tough resolution, introduced at a closed-door council session, in effect relegates the UN and other international institutions to an advisory board that audits how the oil money had been spent. The revenues are to be used for reconstruction and humanitarian purposes.

The documents would phase out over four months the existing UN oil-for-food humanitarian programme. The Bush administration is counting on approval from Russia, France, China and Germany, who had the strongest anti-war position in the 15-member council, with officials saying there was little enthusiasm for another bruising fight.

Before today’s meeting began, Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov said he would pose “lots of questions” to US ambassador John Negroponte. Russia as well as France has called for a central role for the United Nations and the return of UN arms inspectors, which the US opposes.

But whether either country would threaten a veto is doubtful as it is uncertain whether they would be backed up by swing votes among temporary council members as they were when they opposed the US invasion of Iraq.

Chile’s ambassador, Gabriel Valdes, for one, said he was “favourably” disposed to the draft. Foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said Paris would play a constructive role. He issued a statement repeating France’s demand that the UN play a central role in post-war Iraq. But he did not define that role.

Nearly every council member, including Britain, had wanted to send UN weapons inspectors back to Iraq, as called for as in at least 16 resolutions as a condition for lifting the sanctions, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. But the draft resolution ignores any such requirement.

The United States and Britain, which sponsored the US-drafted measure along with Spain, want a vote by June 3, when the oil-for-food programme, which gives the UN control over the oil revenues, needs to be renewed.

Without an adopted resolution, no Iraqi, US or UN entity in Baghdad has the legal authority to export oil.

The US proposal, endorsed by Britain and Spain, would deposit Iraqi oil revenues in an “Iraqi Assistance Fund” for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes, to be held by the Iraqi Central Bank, currently managed by Peter McPherson, a former deputy US treasury secretary.

The fund would have an advisory board that would include officials appointed by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as well as the IMF, the World Bank and others. This group would audit expenditures.

But decisions on where to spend the money would be made mainly by the US and Britain, with perhaps some input from other allies, like Australia, who sent some troops to the effort to oust President Saddam Hussein's government. They would consult an Iraqi interim authority Washington is setting up until a new government is formed, which could take years.

The money in the Iraqi Assistance Fund, which would be used “for the benefit of the Iraqi people” would remain there until “such time as a new Iraqi government is properly constituted and capable of discharging its responsibilities.”

The draft resolution also asks Annan to appoint a “special coordinator” to supervise UN humanitarian assistance and “reconstruction activities in Iraq.”

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