UNITED NATIONS – A divided Security Council extended the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq for just nine days on Monday, after an agreement for a six-month renewal fell apart over a U.S. demand to tighten the list of goods to ensure they can't be used for the military.
Working against a midnight Monday deadline, council members couldn't agree on a timetable to review the list. In lieu of a deal, diplomats voted unanimously to extend the oil-for-food humanitarian program in order to buy time for further negotiations.
The program, funded by revenue from Iraqi oil sales, provides food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for Iraqis trying to cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington wants to add a number of items that Iraq has been trying to import to ensure that the list "is not exploited or utilized in any way by the government of Iraq to import items for military purpose under civilian guise."
He said that the items include atropine injectors and atropine, an antidote used in the event of exposure to nerve agents, which could be used "in a chemical warfare kind of situation" as well as jammers for global positioning equipment, radio intercept and direction finding equipment. Atropine is frequently used to resuscitate heart attack victims. Western diplomats said the Pentagon also wants to add Cipro, which is used to combat anthrax and smallpox.
Two weeks ago, administration officials said Iraq had imported significant quantities of atropine and obidoxime chloride over the last two years.
Under a new system adopted by the council in the summer to speed humanitarian deliveries, Iraq can purchase any humanitarian items except those that may have a possible military use. So-called dual-use items on a "goods review list" must be individually approved by the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq.
Russia had pressed for a routine six-month extension and a 90-day review of the list, a position backed by a majority of council members. But Negroponte said the United States wanted a maximum 90-day extension and review.
Negroponte said Washington was even willing to agree to a 30-day extension and review of the list -- but would not agree to a six-month extension until the list was revised.
Security Council experts had reached broad agreement late Friday on a draft resolution that would extend the humanitarian program for six months and review the list within 90 days. The procedures to implement the list would have been reviewed within six months.
Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby, who chairs the sanctions committee on Iraq, said he "was surprised" that disputes over the timetable and oil pricing -- which determines how much cash the Iraqis have to spend -- had come up at the last minute.
At the insistence of the United States and Britain, the United Nations has been setting the price of Iraqi oil at the end of every month -- rather than the beginning -- to prevent Iraq from taking advantage of fluctuations in the oil market and imposing an illegal surcharge.
Washington and London maintain the so-called retroactive pricing policy has worked ito cut illegal payoffs to Saddam Hussein's government, but U.N. officials and council members, including Russia and France, contend that it has also caused a sharp drop in exports which means fewer dollars for the humanitarian program.
In response to the U.S. demand Monday to quickly reopen the goods review list, France proposed that the oil pricing issue be addressed during the next phase of the oil-for-food program.