UNITED NATIONS - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell briefly raised the possibility of suspending U.N. sanctions against Iraq on Wednesday as Russia and France have urged, but quickly backtracked and said the United States wants them lifted immediately.
Powell's comments were made shortly before U.S. officials handed a revised draft of a U.N. resolution on postwar Iraq to Security Council experts yesterday afternoon. It calls for an end to "all prohibitions related to trade with Iraq and the provision of financial or economic resources to Iraq."
The United States would undoubtedly like to get rid of sanctions quickly, but agreeing to a suspension might be the price it has to pay to get the resolution adopted next week.
Some diplomats saw Powell's raising the possibility of suspending sanctions during a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, as a trial balloon for a compromise.
Eliminating the embargoes is preferable, Powell said, "but we will look at the idea of initially suspending sanctions."
The White House and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations quickly issued "clarifications," stressing that the U.S. position is to lift sanctions.
During the short flight from Sofia to Berlin, Powell was back on message. "We are going for lifting the sanctions," he told reporters. "We want to get 15-0 in the Security Council. I think a lift is achievable."
The resolution would lift the embargoes imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and phase out over four months the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program designed to help ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions.
It would end U.N. control over the country's vast oil wealth and allow the United States and its allies in charge of Iraq to use the money to pay for the country's reconstruction.
And the new text would still authorize the United States and Britain to run the country for a year - with automatic extensions unless Washington and London determined otherwise - and to control a new Development Fund for Iraq where money from oil sales would be deposited.
Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, said the revised draft introduced yesterday included more than 25 changes and reflected suggestions from council members.
"We think we've moved significantly," he said.
Sanctions is just one of the contentious issues in the draft.
Many council members have questioned the limited role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq envisioned in the proposed resolution and the powerful role for the United States and Britain as occupying powers.