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Since 1st March, 1999
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Cosmetic changes in US draft

United Nations, May 16 (Reuters): The US submitted a new draft of its resolution to lift sanctions against Iraq but changed few basic demands that disturbed Russia, China, France and Germany.

The measure continues to give the US and Britain wide-ranging powers to run Iraq and decide how to spend its oil wealth for reconstruction until a permanent government is established.

The text includes more than 25 changes suggested by the 15 council members, although many were cosmetic.

The US and Britain expect a near unanimous vote next week, apparently convinced that the council does not want another bruising fight as it did over the US-led invasion of Iraq. The new draft, circulated yesterday, beefs up the role of a UN envoy in Iraq, called a coordinator, but leaves most of the official’s duties vague.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, during talks in Berlin with secretary of state Colin Powell today gave guarded support to the draft.

In the new draft, the UN envoy was given a seat on an international advisory group that would approve auditors for a Development Fund in which Iraq’s oil wealth would be placed.

Diplomats said UN secretary-general Kofi Annan preferred Lakhdar Brahimi, the former foreign minister of Algeria now heading the UN operation in Afghanistan, for the Iraq post, but he so far has refused the job.

Another candidate is Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, the UN high commissioner for human rights, long said to be the Bush administration’s favourite.

Artifacts recovered

US investigators have recovered 951 items looted from Iraq’s National Museum, but have not gained access to central bank vaults thought to contain priceless objects or a secret storage site known only to museum staff, the lead investigator said today.

Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, leader of the team investigating the museum’s losses, was unable to give a firm figure of the number of items still missing from the museum’s collection following the looting spree in the days after US forces entered Baghdad.

In a briefing from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon, he said his team of 14 investigators has recovered 951 items.

Some of the recovered items include one of the oldest known bronze relief bowls, a pottery jar from the 6th millennium BC, and one of the earliest known Sumerian statues, he said.

Among the many items still missing, he added, is the Sacred Vase of Warka, a Sumerian limestone bowl engraved with a depiction of the goddess In-nin, dating from 3000 BC.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said his country and China, both of whom have veto power on the council, believed the draft needed“serious amendments,” including on phasing out the U.. 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,” Fedotov told the Interfax news agency.

Diplomats said the United States and Russia were expected to conclude a deal that would honor some of the pending Russian contracts in the program, which would be phased out over four months. Under the current plan, the United Nations controls Iraq's oil revenues, now amounting to some $12 billion, and pays contractors for civilian supplies the ousted government of President Saddam Hussein had ordered.

And in Paris, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters,“This text can be markedly improved further.” A ministry spokesman said France would submit amendments but did not say what they were.

Both France and Russia had proposed a suspension to the sanctions, imposed in August 1990 after Saddam Hussein's armed forces invaded Kuwait. They argued that a final end to the embargoes should wait until U.. arms inspectors certified Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction.

But the United States has rejected it, despite startling comments by Powell on Thursday, that such a process could be under consideration.

Without U.. action to lift the 13-year-old sanctions, the United States and Britain would be in a legal no man's land in Iraq, with many companies unwilling to engage in trade, and Iraq's oil exports open to lawsuits.

Iraq's oil revenues and the Development Fund would be immune from claims and lawsuits. But the new draft says that would expire once a permanent internationally recognized Iraqi government was established, a process that could take years.

Another revision was that Iraq's current $400 billion of debt be handled by“international mechanisms” like the Paris Club of 19 wealthy nations that restructure debt.

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