OVERCOMING A year of division and diplomatic paralysis, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Iraq that plots a route to the suspension of sanctions if President Saddam Hussein co-operates with a new arms inspection regime.
The text, drafted by Britain, which also holds the council presidency, was passed last night by 11 votes in the 15-member council. While they voiced reservations about the provisions, Russia, China and France - all permanent members with the power of veto - abstained, as did Malaysia, a non-permanent member.
"The adoption of this resolution is an exceptional achievement ... one which is fully in the interests of the Iraqi people and of the international community," Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, said after the vote.
The resolution creates a weapons inspection body for Iraq, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic). It replaces Unscom, the UN Special Commission, which has, in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency, been responsible for weeding out President Saddam's weapons of mass destruction since sanctions were imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
It also means the immediate lifting of limits on the amount of crude Iraq can export on to the world market under the oil-for-food regime that was introduced to offset civilian suffering. Until yesterday, Iraq could sell oil worth $5.26bn (pounds 3bn) every six months.
Baghdad has already signalled that it will reject the resolution. If it refuses to co-operate, it may even opt to keep exports beneath the $5.26bn ceiling. "Iraq categorically rejects the British proposal," the Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said in a letter to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, written before the resolution's adoption.
The Iraqi president yesterday summoned aides to a meeting as the council met to consider the resolution.
Policy on Iraq has been in ruins ever since the United States and Britain launched a heavy bombardment of the country on 16 December last year. Operation Desert Fox aimed to punish Iraq for failing to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors branded as US and Israeli spies by Baghdad.
Since then the two countries have kept up a low-level bombardment against Iraq in "no-fly" zones in the north and south of the country. But during that time the Security Council has been deeply divided and there has been no supervision of Iraq's weapons activities.
The resolution lays out a timetable for the suspension of the main sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. After its first 120 days working in Iraq, Unmovic would report to the council on progress.
The deliberately vague text, which was furiously fought over, provides for suspension of the sanctions if Iraq has shown its willingness to "co-operate in all respects" with inspectors. All could depend, however, on the interpretation of that phrase, both by Unmovic and by members of the Security Council. Britain and the US are expected to insist on the most stringent of interpretations, while friends of Iraq will take a more lenient approach.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies