U.S. Hopeful About Lifting U.N. Sanctions on Iraq
WASHINGTON – President Bush is hopeful the United Nations Security Council (search) won't fall into the trap that paralyzed it before the Iraq war and will quickly pass a resolution to lift 13-year-old sanctions on the newly liberated country, the White House said Thursday.
"There is no reason why this current U.N. process should look anything like the last one. There is no reason for a dust-up," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in his daily briefing. "The environment is much more hopeful this time."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte (search) is expected to introduce the resolution to remove sanctions on Friday. Britain and Spain, the same countries that tried with the United States to get the Security Council to authorize military action in Iraq in March, also support this measure.
On Wednesday, President Bush suggested that the rift in the United Nations — with the U.S., Britain and Spain on one side and Russia, France, China and Germany on the other — has mended.
"The mood that existed before the war has changed and people want to work together for the good of the Iraqi people," he said during a press conference with Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar.
The U.S. resolution would call for the phaseout of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program over the next four months. It also would create an international advisory board, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to audit how income from Iraq's oil industry is spent and to ensure that such money is being used to benefit the Iraqi people.
On Wednesday night, Secretary of State Colin Powell told attendees of the Foreign Policy Association's annual dinner that the resolution will ask the United Nations "to play a vital role" in humanitarian assistance and political reconstruction.
"More importantly, it will be a resolution that can bring us all together to give the Iraqi people a better life and hope for a much brighter future," Powell said.
France and Russia have insisted for years the sanctions were unfairly punishing the Iraq people, but now appear in no hurry to lift them.
During that same time, the United States has insisted that Saddam Hussein, and not the sanctions, is to blame for Iraq's poverty. That notion was reinforced earlier this week when it was discovered that Saddam and his sons stole $1 billion from the country's Central Bank before the war began.
"The Saddam Hussein regime is gone. There is no reason for the people of Iraq to suffer sanctions any longer," Fleischer said.
The resolution includes a provision that would let Russia cash in on $1.5 billion in outstanding contracts with Iraq. Russia has been hoping for years to collect $8 billion in debt owed by Saddam's regime.
Russia has insisted that the sanctions not be lifted until U.N. inspectors verify that no weapons of mass destruction exist in the country. The United States has no interest in returning U.N. inspectors to the scene and has sent its own inspectors to Iraq to look for weapons. The Pentagon was preparing to send even more U.S. inspectors to the country.
A senior Russian official said Wednesday that rather than lifting sanctions, Moscow would prefer to suspend the embargoes on food and medicine. However, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted by Russian news agency Interfax Thursday saying Russia supports suspending or lifting "all sanctions that hinder or limit the resolution of humanitarian problems in Iraq."
"There is no reason for the Iraqi people, who have suffered from sanctions for 11 years, to continue to suffer from them today," he said after a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes arrived Thursday in Moscow to convince officials to agree to end the sanctions altogether. He also was headed to Berlin, while Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage spoke with Pakistani officials about ending the sanctions. Pakistan is currently holding the presidency of the Security Council.
The resolution would give the United Nations a role as lesser partner with the U.S.-led coalition in rebuilding Iraq, a provision meant to satisfy French concerns. France had been close to wanting the same things as the United States — asking for a working agreement for U.S. and U.N. inspectors and phaseout of the oil-for-food program. However, it wanted to suspend sanctions temporarily and to lift them completely after a legitimate Iraqi government is in place.
But France's U.S. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said Wednesday that "we want to find the best possible solutions in the interest of the Iraqi people."
On Wednesday, Bush ordered some U.S. unilateral sanctions to be lifted immediately. The removal of restrictions will allow U.S. companies charged with reconstruction to work in Iraq and bring in the materials needed. The president's order also allows Iraqi expatriates in the United States to remit $500 a month to family and friends in Iraq.
The president continued a series of thank-you meetings on Thursday with allies who supported the coalition. He lunched with the Emir of Qatar, where the United States based its war operations and is moving its military headquarters for the Persian Gulf. Qatar just approved a new constitution, which Bush indicated is more democratic than most of its neighbors.
"The emir also has served as a strong example of what is possible in his part of the world. He's a reformer. He's promoted a new constitution which allows women to vote. He's promoted women into his Cabinet," Bush said.
The president had a breakfast meeting with the prime minister of Denmark, whose country has agreed to provide peacekeeping forces in Iraq. Late in the day, he met with the foreign ministers of seven Eastern European nations, the newest members of NATO. Six of those nations backed the coalition.
"The peoples of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have a fresh memory of tyranny. And they know the consequences of complacency in the face of danger," Bush said in East Room remarks. "Time and again, they have demonstrated their desire and ability to defend freedom against its enemies. They have proven themselves to be allies by their action. And now it is time to make them allies by treaty."
Fox News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.