U.N. Debates Iraqi Relief Program, Postwar Government

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The United Nations Security Council, heeding President Bush's call, could vote as early as Friday on whether to hand over administration of Iraq's oil-for-food program to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a source told Fox News on Thursday.

"The Security Council should give Secretary-General Kofi Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance," Bush said at a Thursday press conference at Camp David.

The oil-for-food program, begun in 1996 to allow the sale of Iraqi oil in exchange for the purchase of food and medicine to be distributed to Iraqi citizens, had been run by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Annan suspended the program at the start of the war when he pulled out U.N. workers from Iraq.

"The current humanitarian situation in Iraq is fragile, all the more so as a result of the policies and actions of the Iraqi regime over the last two decades," said John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "The United States ... and other members of the coalition are prepared to administer necessary relief as quickly as possible."

Sources said that a draft resolution had been passed to the capitals of all 15 nations represented on the Security Council. Thirteen of the members were said to be ready to approve it.

Russia and Syria, however, were said to be concerned that the program would be used strategically by the U.S. and Britain against the current Iraqi regime, with Moscow stating that Saddam Hussein's government ought to still receive profits from oil sales.

Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said Russia might accept a British compromise draft resolution that eliminates references to a U.S.-British role in coordinating the program and underlines Iraq's sovereignty over its oil resources.

Lavrov said he wanted to be sure the resolution did not legitimize the American and British-led coalition's military action. He also raised concerns that the program could threaten Russia's commercial interests, which are apparently involved in the distribution of food and humanitarian goods.

Negroponte rejected a suggestion by civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson that a pause in fighting occur in order to allow humanitarian relief.

Jackson's exhortations preceded comments by Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., Mohammad Al-Douri, who claimed that U.S. forces were trying to exterminate Iraqi civilians. Negroponte replied to by appearing on reporters' cameras to denounce the charges.

Even as the Security Council worked out the details, it was unlikely much, if any, aid could distributed before hostilities cease, a source told Fox News.

The United Nations could try to at least be ready to go whenever there were secure areas to distribute food and medicine.

An even larger international diplomatic conflict waits in the wings — whether the United Nations will play a central administrative role in a post-Saddam Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected to raise the issue in a meeting with Annan Thursday evening.

"The U.N. must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in London Thursday — despite earlier statements that France did not want the U.N. to aid in the American occupation.

De Villepin's proclamation might have been outpacing reality on both the diplomatic and logistical fronts. One source told Fox News the United Nations "doesn't want to govern, and is unable to govern, Iraq."

Appearing with Bush at Camp David Thursday morning, Blair said the two leaders agreed on the important role the world body would play in a post-conflict Iraq. Bush said nothing publicly about the U.N.'s role, but at no time voiced disagreement.

"The position is exactly as the president and I set out in the Azores: namely, that we will work with the U.N., our allies and partners and bilateral donors," Blair said. "We will seek new U.N. Security Council resolutions to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, to ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq."

Diplomats voiced skepticism.

"[The stated Azores plan] is proving to be extraordinarily difficult and contentious," said one diplomat.

"It is more likely the U.N. would play a role similar to what it did in Afghanistan — a mission in support of a government," another said, adding that there was a "big tug-of-war in the Security Council as to what they want the U.N. to do."

Fox News' Jim Angle and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.