UNITED NATIONS – The solidarity of the U.N. Security Council (search) will be tested once again when the United States presents a resolution calling for an immediate lifting of sanctions against Iraq and a phaseout of the oil-for-food humanitarian program over the next four months.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Wednesday the United States expects to present the draft this week.
The U.S. resolution would also create an international advisory board -- including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- to audit how income from Iraq's oil industry is spent and ensure it is being used to benefit the Iraqi people.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes arrived Thursday in Moscow to seek support for ending the sanctions.
Russia says they can't be lifted until it is clear the country has no weapons of mass destruction. Holmes met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov, who was to travel to Germany later in the day on a similar mission.
The debate in the 15-member council will be key to judging how much the bitter split that broke out over the question of invading Iraq has healed.
Earlier this year, Russia, France, China and Germany thwarted attempts by the United States, Britain and Spain to win U.N. backing for war on Iraq. The diplomatic battle strained relations between the two sides, and there are still major differences over handling postwar Iraq.
A senior Russian official said Wednesday that rather than lifting sanctions as sought by Washington, Moscow only wants a suspension of the embargoes on food and medicine -- suggesting that a new confrontation may be in the works.
Many council members want to avoid another bruising battle and to try to find a consensus -- something Annan has also been pushing for.
Powell and President Bush stressed the importance of putting aside past differences and uniting to help Iraqi rebuild.
In Washington, Bush insisted "the mood that existed before the war has changed and people want to work together for the good of the Iraqi people."
After meeting Annan, Powell predicted the U.S. resolution will unite the international community, and referred to France, Russia, Germany and China as "our friends."
He told the Foreign Policy Association's annual dinner Wednesday night that the resolution will ask the United Nations "to play a vital role" in humanitarian assistance and political reconstruction.
"More importantly, it will be a resolution that can bring us all together to give the Iraqi people a better life and hope for a much brighter future," Powell said. He received the association's medal along with Javier Solana, the European Union's security and foreign policy chief.
The resolution calls for the immediate lifting of sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
It would also phase out over four months the oil-for-food program, which has been feeding 90 percent of the country's 24 million people.
Under that program, which began in 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with the oil and trade embargoes, Iraq was allowed to sell unlimited quantities of oil to pay for humanitarian goods and reparations for the first Gulf War. The oil revenue was deposited in a U.N.-controlled escrow account.
The United States wants to use that money to pay for Iraq's reconstruction.
U.N. humanitarian programs that have been operating under the oil-for-food program would be ended as well. U.N. officials are setting up new programs in Iraq and coordinating between other aid groups.
Russia and France, which both had lucrative contracts with Saddam Hussein's government under that program, have not been in a hurry to end it.
Russia has circulated its own draft resolution calling for Annan to run the oil-for-food program, including taking charge of Iraq's petroleum sales and its oil fields until a solid Iraqi government comes to power.
The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive to win support for the new U.N. resolution, sending Holmes to Moscow and Berlin and putting Iraq on Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's agenda in Pakistan, which currently holds the Security Council presidency.
In meeting with Holmes on Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said sanctions can be lifted only on the basis of existing Security Council resolutions, Interfax news agency reported, meaning after it's assured that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov struck a more conciliatory note Thursday, saying Russia supports suspending or lifting "all sanctions that hinder or limit the resolution of humanitarian problems in Iraq."
"There is no reason for the Iraqi people, who have suffered from sanctions for 11 years, to continue to suffer from them today," Interfax quoted him as saying after a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said Thursday that only U.N. inspectors can pronounce the "final verdict" on whether a trailer truck U.S. officials said might have been a biological lab was part of an Iraqi weapons program, Interfax reported.
Under council resolutions, U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them before sanctions can be lifted.
The United States has deployed its own inspection teams -- U.S. officials have said they don't want U.N. inspectors to return any time soon.
Russia for years has sought the removal of the sanctions as Iraq's main ally in the Security Council, hoping to regain more than $8 billion in Iraqi debt and reap the economic benefits of its diplomatic support.
But since the war, Russia has tried to use its status as a veto-wielding council member to steer control over the situation in Iraq back to the United Nations.
France wants to suspend the sanctions, phase out the oil-for-food program, have U.S. and U.N. inspectors work together and lift sanctions when a legitimate Iraqi government is in place.
But France's U.S. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said Wednesday that "we want to find the best possible solutions in the interest of the Iraqi people."
Germany's national security adviser, Bernd Muetzelburg, met Monday with Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on the sanctions question. Afterward, Germany's U.S. Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger told reporters his country would not stand in the way of a pragmatic resolution of the sanctions issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.