UNITED NATIONS – With the U.N. Security Council (search) looking to avoid the bitter divisions that broke out before the war, France and Russia toned down objections to a new U.S. plan for ruling postwar Iraq, but appeared intent to seek changes to give the United Nations a stronger role.
The United States introduced a wide-ranging draft resolution that would give the U.N. stamp of approval for a U.S.-British occupation of Iraq for at least a year and hand the Americans and British control of the country's oil wealth to use in rebuilding the country.
"Most delegations saw this as charting a way forward; certainly they had some questions," U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) said Friday after a council session where he introduced the eight-page resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain.
With debate in the council due to start Wednesday, there were differences among the members over a vision to rebuild Iraq -- but the tone was muted compared with the bruising battle several months ago over an invasion of Iraq.
In that debate, France, Russia and Germany blocked the attempt by the United States, Britain and Spain to win U.N. approval for a war -- and ties between the two sides were left severely strained.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said in Washington he hoped the council would act quickly. "This resolution is straight to the point; it's a resolution that will serve the Iraqi people; it's a resolution that will ultimately result in the lifting of sanctions so that the world can again trade with Iraq," he said.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said Saturday the U.S. plan raises several questions and does not provide a clear picture on lifting the sanctions. French President Jacques Chirac (search) insisted that "the United Nations should play a central role."
But Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said they were committed to "constructive negotiations" over the U.S. draft. "We are ready for pragmatic solutions," Schroeder said at a summit with Chirac and the Polish president.
U.S. diplomats stressed the proposal is not a "take it or leave it" plan.
Even co-sponsor Spain's ambassador, Inocencio Arias, said his country believes "this text can be improved ... But altogether it's a good way to try to find a solution to a situation which is rather complicated."
Others who did not support the U.S. attacks on Iraq reacted favorably. Angola's Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins called it "a good start" and Chile's Ambassador Gabriel Valdes said, "Our initial reaction is very positive."
Under the draft, the United Nations would give the United States and Britain authority to run the country as they put together a new Iraqi government. In a letter to the council on Thursday, Washington and London recognized for the first time their status as "occupying forces" in Iraq, which under the Geneva Conventions requires them to look out for the welfare of the Iraqi people.
The initial 12-month authorization would automatically be extended unless the council -- where the United States and Britain hold a veto -- decides to block it.
The draft resolution would lift economic sanctions on Iraq and phase out the oil-for-food humanitarian program. It would also end U.N. control of Iraq's oil revenues, putting them instead into an "Iraqi Assistance Fund" controlled by the United States and Britain under international observance.
Britain's ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock rejected suggestions the coalition troops were paving the way for a long stay in Baghdad and using revenues from the world's second largest oil reserves.
"For a temporary period while we control the security and what happens on the ground, we want those oilfields to be regenerated as a benefit, as an instrument, for the Iraqi people and we are very keen that should be done very efficiently," Greenstock told reporters.
"We want to leave Iraq as soon as it is possible to ensure stability and normal arrangements for a new country," he said.
The plan envisions only an advisory role for the United Nations, mostly on humanitarian front. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would appoint a special coordinator to work with U.S. and British authorities and the Iraqi people.
That coordinator also would promote delivery of humanitarian aid, the return of refugees, reconstruction, human rights, legal and judicial reform, and rebuilding of an Iraqi police force.
Instead, France and Russia are pushing for U.N. weapons inspectors to work in Iraq and want to either continue or gradually phase-out the oil-for-food program.