UNITED NATIONS – While the United States presses for quick U.N. action to lift sanctions against Iraq, many Security Council members are waiting for the Bush administration to make a specific proposal and spell out the role it envisions for the United Nations once the war ends.
Council ambassadors met informally Thursday afternoon at France's U.N. Mission in a third brainstorming session to bridge serious differences on dealing with the aftermath of a war that the United Nations did not authorize. Sanctions are just one issue.
Under council resolutions, the lifting of sanctions is linked to U.N. certification that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed. That is linked to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq — and the debate on whether the United Nations will play a significant political role in postwar Iraq, as many council members want, or just a humanitarian one, as Washington appears to favor.
"We know, and we recognize that there are many differences, and there are sharp contrasts in points of view in the council," Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, the current council president, said Thursday. "That's why we have to [make] an extraordinary effort to bring the council together."
The council was bitterly divided over the war, with France leading the opposition to the U.S.-led military action, joined by Russia, Germany and China. Now, diplomats say Russia appears to be taking the lead in demanding the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, verification of Iraq's disarmament, and a significant role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq.
While President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world body will play "a vital role," they have provided few specifics. Similarly, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said this week that U.S. officials in Washington were still discussing the specifics of lifting sanctions.
"The sanctions are outdated," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Thursday, "and we look forward to working in the U.N. to lift the sanctions against Iraq so they can become traders in the world economy."
Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador Hanns Heinrich Schumacher said before Thursday's meeting: "We want to know what exactly the president has in mind."
To bridge some of the differences, the council has been holding the informal sessions ahead of its first formal consultations on postwar issues next Tuesday.
The council had scheduled a briefing by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix even before Bush urged the council on Wednesday to lift sanctions. It also scheduled a separate briefing late Tuesday by Benon Sevan, who runs the oil-for-food humanitarian program for Iraq, which has been feeding 60 percent of the country's 23 million people.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan withdrew U.N. weapons inspectors and all international staff for security reasons just before the war began, but he has pressed for the inspectors' return as quickly as possible. The United States, however, has fielded its own disarmament teams inside Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction and has not invited U.N. inspectors.
The council imposed economic sanctions and an arms embargo on Iraq four days after Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
A resolution adopted in April 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition routed the Iraqis said sanctions could be lifted when U.N. inspectors certified that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles had been destroyed.
In December 1999, the council adopted another resolution creating a new inspection agency and providing for the suspension of sanctions for renewable 120-day periods if U.N. inspectors reported that Iraq had cooperated "in all respects" with them and shown progress in fulfilling key remaining disarmament tasks.