US presses for early vote on Allied control of Iraq

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The Independent US

Washington is pressing for a vote in the United Nations Security Council this week endorsing shared control of the country and its oil flows by the United States and Britain as the "occupying powers" after the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

Diplomats predicted yesterday that passage of a sweeping resolution at the Security Council which would lift 13-year-old sanctions on Iraq was likely to come before the weekend, after efforts by Washington to amend the text to answer concerns raised notably by France, Russia and China. The changes envision an expanded political role for the UN in Iraq.

Last-minute hitches remained a possibility, however, particular after the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, declared that the resolution should include provisions on the deployment of peacekeepers in Iraq. There is no specific mention of peacekeeping in the current form of the draft.

Looking to garner as large a majority as possible in the 15-member body, the United States agreed to various concessions in recent days. Even with those taken into account, however, the resolution would still grant most of what London and Washington were seeking towards maintaining primary control over the country.

Among the changes is a slight elevation in the status of an envoy that would be sent to Iraq by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to aid in reconstruction. The amendment was meant to appease concerns in Moscow and Paris, especially that the UN was being given a flimsy subordinate role in Iraq.

Instead of being a "special co-ordinator", as was originally contemplated, the UN figure would now be a "special representative" of Mr Annan, with "independent powers" to work with the US and Britain "to facilitate a process leading to an internationally recognised, representative government of Iraq," the text says. But the exact responsibilities of the future UN representative still seem vague.

The new text also opens the door for consideration in the future of a return to Iraq of UN arms inspectors, a con-cern of many council members.

Meanwhile, Washington agreed that the current arrangements under which the UN controls the expenditure of revenues from Iraq's oil production would be extended for six months, rather than the four months originally envisioned. This will be especially welcome to Russia, which has a large number of contracts pending under those arrangements worth billions of dollars.

Mr Ivanov made his peacekeeping plea speaking at a university in Kiev in Ukraine. "It is vital to adopt a resolution that will reflect the means for lifting sanctions as well as the issues in deploying peacekeeping forces," he said. "Many states are saying now that they are ready to take part in one or another operation in Iraq, including peacekeeping missions. But this must be on the basis of a UN decision."

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is expected to lobby for French backing for the resolution and attempt to heal the rifts between France and the United States over Iraq when he attends a meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris tomorrow.

The US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, said the draft on the table - the third version in 10 days - could be amended further, although it was unlikely. "We have gone just about as far as we can in meeting the concerns expressed by other delegations," he said.

In the background are lingering concerns that the resolution essentially rewrites some of the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the duties of occupying powers. They are not meant to have the authority to create a new permanent government - which is the stated aim of London and Washington - or commit the occupied country to long-term contracts, such as oil exploration.

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