U.N. Extends Iraq Humanitarian Program Six Months

In a show of unity after tough negotiations, the Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq for six months and review a list of goods that Baghdad needs approval to import within 30 days.

The resolution represented a compromise between the United States, which wants to quickly add about 50 items with possible military uses to the list, and the other 14 council members, led by Russia, who wanted to renew the oil-for-food program for the usual six-month period.

The United States had been at odds with the rest of the Security Council on how long the program should be extended. The compromise preserves council unity over Iraq at a critical time, with U.N. weapons inspectors in the country carrying out a toughened search for illegal arms.

"It's absolutely a victory for common sense, and victory for the Security Council, and I would say victory for the Iraqi people," said Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov. "We ensured ... that the humanitarian program continues uninterrupted."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States will move swiftly to implement the agreement and update the so-called goods review list.

"It is imperative that Iraq not be able to take advantage of loopholes or omissions in the goods review list to acquire items that strengthen its conventional and weapons of mass destruction capabilities," he said.

An agreement was reached hours before a nine-day extension of the program was set to expire at midnight.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe called the six-month extension "a success for the humanitarian attitude in the Security Council," but said it should have happened nine days ago.

The Bush administration initially proposed a two-week extension so it could try to add new items to the 419-page list, including nerve antidotes and jamming equipment. The list already includes thousands of items ranging from machine tools and advanced computers to lasers and nuclear fuel production plants.

Russia proposed an amendment, backed by the other 13 council members, that would automatically renew the program for the usual six-month period after the two-week extension expired on Dec. 18.

After tough negotiations, a compromise was reached.

At a closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Russians agreed to sit down within 30 days to open up the list of goods, so the United States agreed to extend the program for 180 days, a U.S. official said.

Negroponte said the U.S. decision to accept a six-month extension, rather than two weeks, was not a setback. The United States got its key demand — speedy negotiations on updating the list which was "an important accomplishment," he said.

Diplomats said it was critical to preserve the hard-won unity that led to the Security Council's unanimous adoption on Nov. 8 of a new resolution on arms inspections, which resumed a week ago. Resolution 1441 threatens "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to comply, and the Bush administration has said it will take military action if the council does not.

A French diplomat said the United States made a "wise" decision which preserves council unity and keeps the humanitarian program going without making it "hostage" to approval of an updated list of goods.

Lavrov, whose country is Iraq's closest council ally, said Moscow was prepared to consider proposals to update the so-called "goods review list." So far, Washington has not produced a list of items it wants to add.

"We have been waiting for the proposals for almost two weeks now, and they are still not here," Lavrov said.

Russia has proposed its own changes, including amending provisions that prohibit delivery of heavy trucks to Iraq for civilian use, Russian officials have said.

The program, funded by revenue from Iraqi oil sales, allows Baghdad to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian goods while sanctions — imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait — remain in effect.

Under a new system drafted by the United States and adopted by the council in the summer to speed the delivery of humanitarian goods, Iraq can purchase any humanitarian items except those that may have a possible military use. So-called dual-use items on the goods review list must be individually approved by the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq.

A U.S. official said the United States wants to add about 50 "very technical" items to the list including nerve antidotes like atropine, and their injectors, jamming and global positioning equipment, parts for trucks and technical equipment and advanced jet flight simulators.

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.