UNITED NATIONS – In contrast to their bitter opposition to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, France (search), Russia (search) and Germany (search) announced strong support Wednesday for a U.N. resolution that will let the U.S.-led coalition run postwar Iraq and use its oil wealth to rebuild the country.
When the resolution is put to a vote Thursday in the Security Council, it could get the consensus that the United States is hoping for.
There had been a serious question on whether France, Russia and Germany would abstain but their foreign ministers announced late Wednesday that they will back the postwar plans of the U.S.-led coalition to immediately lift economic sanctions against Iraq. Diplomats said this should lead to a quick resumption of the sale of Iraqi oil, which has been suspended since shortly before the start of the war.
China was almost certain to vote "yes," too, but Syria, the council's only Arab member, gave notice that it may sit out the vote.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte insisted the United States will not stand for any time limits on how long it can administer Iraq -- a reference to a French and German suggestion that it be for one year and not open-ended.
In a key concession, however, the United States agreed to let the Security Council "review the implementation of this resolution within 12 months of adoption and to consider further steps that might be necessary." The previous texts did not call for any U.N. review of the postwar Iraq operation.
Indicating another concession to Russia and other council members, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said in a BBC interview late Wednesday that the coalition sees "a role for the U.N. inspectors ... in confirming that Iraq is free of any threat in the area of weapons of mass destruction."
Sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, sanctions technically cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare it free of weapons of mass destruction. But the United States has refused to allow them to return.
The resolution would lift economic sanctions without certification from U.N. inspectors, but it would reaffirm "that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the mandates of the U.N. inspectors later, but gave no time frame.
The Bush administration said this week that nuclear inspectors would be allowed to jointly inspect the looted nuclear research center at Tuwaitha. But Greenstock's comments were the first from the coalition indicating that the requirements of the 1990 sanctions resolution would be met -- a key Russian demand.
Six weeks after the end of the war, and less than two weeks after it first circulated a draft resolution, the United States sent its fourth revision to council members Wednesday morning and called for a vote the next day.
"Our impression is that the council members have welcomed this resolution and that it enjoys strong support," Negroponte said.
Asked about the possibility of consensus, Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram, the current council president, said: "We're not there yet -- but we have 24 hours."
Even near-unanimous approval for the resolution would mark a turnaround for the 15-nation council, whose unity was shattered over the war. A resolution seeking U.N. authorization to attack Iraq was dropped by the United States and its allies Britain and Spain because a majority of the council opposed the war and France and Russia threatened vetoes. But council members made clear they didn't want another debacle.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, standing beside his German and Russian counterparts in Paris, said the three countries decided to vote for the postwar resolution because it "opens the road" for a central U.N. role. The text "does not go as far as we had hoped" but "the United Nations is back in the game," he said.
With their announcements, attention turned to Syria.
Syria recalled U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe for consultations, and council diplomats said intense lobbying was taking place in Damascus by the United States, France and Arab nations to get its support.
"If I do not receive instructions by the time the vote takes place, I shall not take part," said Syria's deputy ambassador Fayssal Mekdad. "This is a very serious resolution. It has obligations and commitments. Out of all those 14 members of the council, Syria is the most concerned country."
The final draft of the resolution includes more than 90 changes from the original draft introduced on May 9 to respond to concerns of other council members, said Negroponte's spokesman, Richard Grenell.
Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq. Many also pressed for a bigger role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq -- especially in building a new government -- and for the council to have a significant role in monitoring the country's reconstruction.
In the final draft, the United Nations would get a stronger role in establishing a democratic government than initially envisioned and the stature of a U.N. envoy in Iraq would be increased. But the United States and Britain, as occupying powers, would remain firmly in control of Iraq and its oil wealth "until an internationally recognized, representative government is established."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan also would be asked to appoint a special representative with "independent powers" to work together with the United States and Britain "to facilitate a process" leading to a democratic government.
Annan said he will act quickly to make an appointment once the resolution is adopted, and speculation centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The resolution would also phase out the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program over six months, ending U.N. control over Iraq's oil income.
All frozen Iraqi assets would be transferred to a new Development Fund for Iraq, where its oil revenue will be deposited.