Iraqi Oil Money May Be Used for Humanitarian Relief

The United States and Britain are working on a plan to use Iraqi oil proceeds from a $40 billion account to pay for humanitarian supplies during a war to disarm Saddam Hussein, The Associated Press has learned.

The proposal, based on the assumption that Saddam will be quickly overthrown, is to be presented shortly after a military conflict begins, according to diplomats and U.N. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The plan would not give Washington and London direct access to vast Iraqi cash reserves in a U.N. escrow account. Instead, by channeling the money into immediate humanitarian relief, the plan would alleviate U.S. and British financial responsibilities for caring for millions of Iraqis.

In an effort to win swift Security Council approval, the plan will be submitted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, rather than by Washington and London, whose forces would effectively be occupying Iraq by that time.

Details on the proposal were still being negotiated. But the latest draft would allow the oil-for-food program, which feeds 60 percent of the 22 million Iraqi people, to continue in some manner.

The Security Council agreed Tuesday it was ready to discuss proposals by Annan to deal with the humanitarian situation in Iraq, which U.N. human rights workers have predicted could develop swiftly into crisis once any military action begins.

The secretary-general has promised the council a letter outlining his suggestions, to be discussed Wednesday at an open council meeting.

The council also will hear from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who will present his list of a dozen questions that Iraq must answer to prove it is disarming peacefully.

The council session will take place hours before the expiration of President Bush's 48-hour deadline for Saddam and his sons to leave Iraq.

Though war looks inevitable, Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said it still "makes sense" for the council to discuss and adopt it.

"The system of inspections is now suspended but not abolished," he said. "We will need the system of inspections after the war" because a 1999 U.N. resolution foresees "that inspections, verification and monitoring would go on after the disarmament of Iraq."

France, Russia and Germany, which led the opposition to a war against Iraq, had pressed for Wednesday's council meeting to discuss a "realistic" timetable to implement Blix's list on issues such as anthrax, VX nerve agent, and Scud missiles.

Blix expressed disappointment that the United States, Britain and Spain had decided so quickly that inspections weren't working. In the face of strong council opposition, the three countries on Monday abandoned efforts to seek Security Council backing for war.

During 3 months of inspections, Blix said, his teams found no evidence of chemical or biological weapons.

But even if Iraq does possess such weapons, Blix said he doesn't think Saddam would use them. The reason, he said, was that world opinion would turn in favor of the United States.

Even on the brink of defeat, when using such weapons might be a last resort, Saddam's government would still care about public opinion, Blix said. "Some people care about their reputation even after death," he said.