UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council (search) lifted economic sanctions on Iraq Thursday, giving U.N. support to U.S. and British control of the country until a democratic government is installed, and clearing the way to rebuild the country with oil revenues.
The council voted 14-0 in favor of the U.S. resolution to lift the sanctions, which were imposed on Saddam Hussein's (search) regime in 1990. The 15th council member, Syria, did not attend the vote.
But Syria's deputy U.N. ambassador Fayssal Mekdad announced in the council Thursday afternoon that his government would have voted in favor of the resolution if the vote had been delayed for a few hours as he requested. He said he wanted the record to reflect that the vote would have been unanimous.
"The lifting of sanctions marks a momentous event for the people of Iraq," U.S. ambassador John Negroponte (search) said after the vote. "It is the turning of a historical page that should brighten the future of the people and the region."
Negroponte said Saddam and his murderous regime prolonged the sanctions for 13 years, and he added: "The liberation of Iraq has cleared the path for today's action."
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram and other council diplomats said they expect Iraqi oil exports to resume quickly once sanctions are lifted. There are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage points at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, one of Iraq's two export terminals, that can be sold immediately, diplomats said.
The resolution's approval was secured Wednesday night when Russia, France and Germany said they would support it rather than abstain. The United States made over 90 changes to the document to get those countries on board. Once that happened, the United States and its allies were certain that China would follow suit.
Russia, France and Germany were the main opponents of the U.S. war effort in Iraq and have posed diplomatic stumbling blocks to issues concerning the country since then.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere (search) said the resolution is far from perfect, but he said "we believe that it now provides a credible framework" for the U.N. to lend support to the rebuilding effort and to preserve the role of international weapons inspectors.
"This is why we supported it," Sabliere said.
"This resolution does not meet everyone's wishes, agreed German U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger (search). "But this resolution strengthens the U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq.
"We have left behind the divisions of the past for the sake of the Iraqi people."
Prior to Thursday's council session, only Syria's vote was in doubt -- and diplomats said intense lobbying was under way by the United States, France and Arab nations to get Damascus on board.
"If I do not receive instructions by the time the vote takes place, I shall not take part," Mekdad warned Wednesday.
Syria's chair at the table was empty when the vote took place. Secretary of State Colin Powell had hoped for a unanimous 15-0 vote.
The final resolution was a win-some, lose some deal, but the United States and its allies still got what they wanted in the end: Washington and London, as occupying powers, will control Iraq and its oil wealth "until an internationally recognized, representative government is established."
The United Nations has a stronger role in establishing a democratic government than initially envisioned, and the stature of a U.N. special representative in Iraq is increased. But the world body did not get the lead role that France, Russia and Germany would have liked.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has promised to quickly appoint a special representative, and speculation has centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has Washington's support.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, standing beside his German and Russian counterparts in Paris, said Wednesday night that 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. "We are convinced that the U.N. will tomorrow be the focus for international action, due to its legitimacy, experience and capabilities."
Many council members had complained the resolution didn't lay out a set date for the end of the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq. Many wanted the council to have a significant role in monitoring the country's reconstruction.
Negroponte insisted the United States wouldn't accept any time limits on how long it could administer Iraq. U.S. officials and President Bush himself have always said they'll stay as long as needed to bring stability to the country and to make sure an Iraqi government is up and running.
In a key concession, however, the United States agreed to let the Security Council "review the implementation of this resolution within 12 months."
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."
Washington has maintained recently that there's no need for U.N. inspectors since weapons experts of its own are already on the ground searching in Iraq.
The sanctions on Iraq imposed after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 technically cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare it free of weapons of mass destruction. So far, no substantial banned weapons have been found.
The resolution would lift economic sanctions without the stamp of approval 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 sometime in the future.
The Bush administration said this week that nuclear inspectors would be allowed to jointly inspect the looted nuclear research center at Tuwaitha.
After the vote, Negroponte announced the creation of the Development Fund for Iraq in the Central Bank of Iraq, where governing authority created in the resolution would disperse funds as it sees fit to benefit Iraqis.
Nearly half of the seven-page resolution talks about how to phase out the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program over the next six months and transfer control of Iraq's oil revenue from the United Nations to the United States and Britain.
During the phase-out period, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will go through $10 billion worth of contracts approved and funded under the program and decide whether they are still needed by the Iraqi people. Many of these contracts are with Russian companies.
But diplomats agreed that passing the resolution was the easy part, and now the hard work will begin.
"There are many challenges," la Sabliere said, adding that the humanitarian situation alone is "precarious."
"The Iraqi people must now take control of its future.... Security needs to be restored as soon as possible."
"It's important to give Iraqis perspective in rebuilding their country," Pleuger added. "The U.N. system will help them realize it."
Fox News' Eric Shawn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.