U.S., Russia Spar Over Iraq's Imports

The United States and Russia, long at odds over what to do with Iraq, disagreed Tuesday over what items Saddam Hussein should be allowed to import under the terms of the U.N.'s humanitarian program.

The latest row threatens to disrupt the oil-for-food program that allows Iraq to use its oil revenue to buy humanitarian goods. Items with possible military applications however, must be reviewed by the U.N. sanctions committee before they can be purchased.

The United States, concerned that Baghdad could be buying equipment for war, is seeking to expand the list and has said that unless additions are made, they will not support a routine, six-month extension of the program.

On Tuesday, U.S. officials suggested the council extend the program only a few more weeks while they worked out details to expand the list.

Russia, Iraq's most important council ally, wants to trim the list, which currently includes everything from heavy trucks to super computers. Until those changes are agreed upon by the council, however, Russia wants the program to be renewed for the regular six-month period.

Oil-for-food was up for renewal on Nov. 25 but the Security Council gave the United States until Wednesday to seek support for its case. Washington has used the time to lobby capitals but has not produced a list of the items it wants to add.

Britain, America's closest ally, has been trying to come up with a compromise in which Washington would win another week to work on a small number of additions that would appear on the list when the program was extended in mid-December.

Russia, France, the United States, Britain and China are all permanent members of the council with the exclusive power to block any vote.

Last month, a U.S.-drafted resolution to set up a tough new inspections regime for Iraq was passed in a rare show of unity by the council. But the new dispute could disrupt that atmosphere.

Annan called on the council Tuesday to think about Iraq's civilians.

"The oil-for-food program was designed to help them and I hope nothing will be done to jeopardize the interests of the population that we seek to help," Annan said.

The Security Council was set to discuss the options Wednesday, but on Monday, a frustrated Russia moved up the consultations by one day.

"Delays damage the humanitarian program," deputy Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov said Monday.

"The extension should be for the whole period of six months and if any delegation feels that it is necessary to reconsider, or adjust the list, we are ready for that at any moment," he said.

Gatilov wouldn't discuss items Russia would like to remove from the list but a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was opposed to all of them.

"We are not interested in removing items, we are interesting in adding items," the U.S. official said.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said last week that the United States wanted to add atropine injectors and atropine, an antidote used in the event of exposure to nerve agents, as well as jammers, radio intercepts and global positioning equipment, to the list.

Western diplomats said the Pentagon also wants to add Cipro, which was given out in the United States last year to combat anthrax. The powerful antibiotic is also given to heart attack victims.

Under U.N. sanctions, Iraq is allowed to use its oil revenues to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. However, items with possible military applications must be reviewed by the Security Council's sanctions committee.

The list of dual-use items includes everything from high-speed computers to heavy-duty trucks and was drafted by the Bush administration in May 2001. Any item on the list must be approved by the sanctions panel before it can be imported by Iraq.

The list has been a constant source of tension between the Washington and Moscow, which only agreed to it after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited President Bush's Texas ranch last year.