UNITED NATIONS - While President Bush urged the Security Council yesterday to lift sanctions on Iraq, France, Russia and some other council members are arguing to keep the sanctions in place and let the United Nations retain control of Iraq's oil resources and lucrative contracts to rebuild the nation.
How the group deals with the sanctions has profound portents for the future of both Iraq and the United Nations. If not handled carefully, the issue could potentially deepen divisions.
In the coming weeks, the council's 15 members must resolve several weighty questions: How should the coalition share the burden and the spoils of shaping a new Iraq? Who should control the country and its resources until a new Iraqi government is in place? Does the United Nations need to certify that Iraq is truly disarmed - or that it even had banned weapons in the first place - before sanctions can be lifted?
"To us, all these questions are linked," said a French diplomat. "It is in the interest of the Iraqi people, the [U.S.-led war] coalition and the international community to do this right. There are no short cuts."
The United Nations imposed strict economic sanctions beginning in 1990 in reaction to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and to pressure the regime to surrender weapons of mass destruction. In 1996, the world body eased the restrictions to allow countries to buy oil and sell nonmilitary goods to Iraq, but all contracts had to be approved by a U.N. committee, and all revenues were held in an escrow account in a bid to keep the money out of Saddam Hussein's hands. Though the regime is now gone, the elaborate web of sanctions still exists - tripping up U.S. plans to fund reconstruction with Iraqi oil revenues.
Although technically the Security Council can override the cumbersome requirements of any previous resolution, the majority of members want to lift the sanctions by the book. That means that U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq is free of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons before the council officially rescinds the sanctions.
"The sanctions were imposed to assure that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction," said Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, the Security Council's president. "There is a great deal of interest in the council to finalize this issue."
The United States has special teams seeking caches of banned weapon and is recruiting former and current U.N. inspectors to work under U.S. supervision at an estimated 3,000 sites.
But Washington, saying it was disappointed by the results of U.N.-run inspections before the war, has resisted inviting the world body's inspectors back into the country to monitor their efforts.
Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte questioned whether inspections were still required. "We have to recognize that the situation in the region has changed radically, and I don't know if [the inspections process] is necessary or not," he said.
Maggie Farley and Edwin Chen write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.