UNITED NATIONS – The United States and its allies asked the U.N. Security Council (search) on Friday to give its stamp of approval to their occupation of Iraq and sought permission to use revenue from the world's second-largest oil reserves to rebuild the war-battered country.
The initial response was positive from some council members who had opposed the U.S.-led war.
But France, Russia and others raised questions about the limited U.N. role, the legitimacy of a new Iraqi government formed by the United States and Britain, and the future of U.N. weapons inspections, which were not mentioned in the draft resolution.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said Moscow has "a long list" of questions. French President Jacques Chirac (search) insisted that "the United Nations should play a central role."
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) introduced the eight-page resolution on behalf of the co-sponsors, the United States, Britain and Spain.
"I would say most delegations saw this as charting a way forward; certainly they had some questions," Negroponte said after the closed-door council session.
The plan envisions the United States and Britain running Iraq as "occupying powers" for at least a year and probably much longer, although Britain's Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said: "We want to leave Iraq as soon as it is possible to ensure stability and normal arrangements for a new country."
The plan's centerpiece is the lifting of oil and trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the phasing out of the oil-for-food humanitarian program.
"The situation has now dramatically altered and a way has to be found, first of all to disentangle and to disengage the United Nations from many of the resolutions that were passed under entirely different circumstances," Negroponte said.
Negroponte and Greenstock called the atmosphere during Friday's initial council discussion "constructive." Experts from the 15 council nations are to meet Monday to clarify legal implications of the draft. The council is to start debate Wednesday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he expected debate would not drag on as pre-war deliberations did. "It's a resolution that will serve the Iraqi people," he said Friday in Washington. "There is a sense of urgency in order to get the U.N. to act so we can start to get the (Iraqi) economy going again."
Diplomats predict tough negotiations ahead. But there is little enthusiasm for a replay of the bitterness in the council that preceeded the war, and U.S. diplomats stressed the proposal is not a "take it or leave it" plan.
At a summit with the Polish president, Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — two of the most vehement anti-war leaders — took a moderate tone, saying they were committed to "constructive negotiations" over the U.S. draft. "We are ready for pragmatic solutions," Schroeder said.
The draft notes that Washington and London sent a letter to the council president Thursday recognizing their responsibilities and obligations under international law "as occupying powers."
The letter marks the first time the United States has referred to its role in Iraq as an "occupying power," a status governed by the Geneva Conventions that details wide-ranging responsibilities for the Iraqi people. Washington had called itself a "liberating force."
Greenstock said the recognition of occupier status should please the council members. "That establishes the basis for a clear political discussion as to what happens next," he said.
The draft calls for transferring control of Iraq's oil revenues from the United Nations to the U.S.-led coalition. Russia has proposed that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan maintain control over the oil money until a legitimate Iraqi government is formed.
The draft says the money would finance the country's reconstruction, with international oversight. But it envisions only a limited, largely advisory role for the United Nations.
That could trigger opposition from council members who want a major U.N. role in creating an interim Iraqi government — and view the U.S. proposal as not offering the "vital role" that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised the world body.
The draft calls on Annan to appoint a U.N. 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.
The draft also calls on all countries to deny safe haven to members of Saddam Hussein's former regime, and to prohibit the trade in looted Iraqi cultural artifacts.
Several council members said they needed to study the text.
Even though Spain co-sponsored the resolution, Spanish 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."
Some countries that did not support the U.S. resolution to get U.N. authorization for the war 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."
A French proposal calls on the council to suspend sanctions, phase out the oil-for-food program, have U.S. and U.N. weapons inspectors work together and lift sanctions when a legitimate Iraqi government is in place.