UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday to restart a humanitarian food program for Iraq once the U.S.-led war winds down.
The resolution gives Secretary-General Kofi Annan control for the next 45 days over the humanitarian side of the U.N. program, which uses Iraq's oil revenues for medical supplies and food. The program had been feeding 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people.
The military situation will determine how quickly the United Nations can return its staff to Iraq to begin distributing the aid, Annan said Friday. He pulled U.N. workers out a day before the war began last week.
The Security Council agreed on the wording of the resolution Thursday night after a week of acrimonious negotiations.
Gunter Pleuger, Germany's U.N. ambassador who chaired the negotiations, called the program "the biggest humanitarian assistance program in the history of the U.N.," and said quick implementation was crucial to preventing a disaster.
After the vote, he thanked members for "the spirit of compromise" that led to the unanimous adoption of the resolution.
"This is a signal to the people that they are not forgotten," Pleuger said.
The Security Council has been bitterly divided over the U.S.-led war. France, Russia, Germany and China opposed military action, arguing that Iraq could be disarmed peacefully through strengthened U.N. weapons inspections.
"On the basis of this humanitarian text, the Security Council has recovered its unity, and that is an important result as well," said France's U.N. Ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere.
"Today's vote will translate into concrete results on the ground," said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. "The people of Iraq have suffered too long" under a regime not of their choosing, he said.
Despite the council's ability to unite on humanitarian aid for Iraq, contentious negotiations are expected over future resolutions dealing with the oil-for-food program and the administration and reconstruction of postwar Iraq.
More than 80 nations spoke Wednesday and Thursday at the first open council meeting since U.S. and British forces launched their campaign in Iraq last week.
About a dozen countries not on the council supported the U.S. position, but the vast majority opposed the war and expressed regret that Iraq's disarmament could not be achieved peacefully.
In a dramatic end to a two-day debate on the war, Negroponte walked out of the council Thursday after Iraq's envoy accused Washington of planning the military assault for years.
Iraq's Mohammed Al-Douri also accused the United States and allies Britain and Australia of trying to exterminate the Iraqi people.
"I did sit through quite a long part of what he had to say, but I think that I'd heard enough," Negroponte said outside the council chamber.
The oil-for-food program has allowed Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the money goes mainly to buying food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. The oil proceeds are deposited in a U.N.-controlled escrow account.
Annan will administer that account, but the resolution does not address how Iraq can sell its oil, meaning Annan has no authority to sign oil contracts.
Russia and Syria had insisted that the oil-for-food resolution should not legitimize the war, presuppose a change in Iraq's leadership, or give the United States control over the escrow account, which contains billions of dollars. Russia was also concerned about Iraqi sovereignty over oil resources.
The resolution reaffirms "the respect for the right of the people of Iraq to determine their own political future and to control their own natural resources." It also notes that "the occupying power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population."
Funds from the program will be used not only to help Iraqis inside the country but those who flee the fighting and become refugees.
The oil-for-food program was adopted in 1995 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The United Nations has been running the program in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, but Saddam's government has been in charge in central and southern Iraq.