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UN: Security Council Stalls On Relief Program In Sign Of Post-Conflict Challenges To U.S. Plans

  • Robert McMahon

The United Nations Security Council has so far failed to agree on modifications to its oil-for-food program to provide long-term humanitarian relief for Iraqis. Diplomats say France, Russia, and China are opposing changes to the program that would appear to legitimize the U.S.-British military occupation of Iraq. The dispute signals the challenges ahead for the stated plans of Washington and London to submit proposals for post-conflict Iraq in the Security Council.

United Nations, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The proposal to transfer control of the oil-for-food program to the United Nations secretary-general has so far stalled over differences in the Security Council rooted in the opposition to the U.S.-led move to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Diplomats say that permanent Security Council members Russia, France and China, which oppose the war, object to a resolution that would authorize UN coordination with U.S. and British forces in Iraq. They believe this would signal that the military action was legitimate.

Council ambassadors are due to meet privately today on the issue. They are expected eventually to work out details of how UN agencies can function on the ground in Iraq.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered UN staff to leave Iraq last week in advance of the expected U.S.-led military action. The oil-for-food program, the largest humanitarian program in UN history, was providing aid to more than 16 million Iraqis.

Annan met yesterday with U.S. national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice to discuss humanitarian and post-conflict affairs in Iraq. He told Rice that until it was safe for UN staff to return, the U.S.-led coalition was responsible for providing humanitarian aid to areas under its control.

Annan and Rice also discussed the need to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq and the right of its people to determine their political future, according to UN and U.S. officials.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN, Rick Grenell, said after the meeting that the United States regards the United Nations as key to the Iraqi issue. "[We] recognize that the UN is of importance right now and want to work with all international partners as much as possible as we go forward," Grenell said.

But the council's inability to reach a quick decision on changes to the oil-for-food program signaled future challenges in deciding key post-conflict issues for Iraq.

David Phillips is an expert on Iraq at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent policy center, and he has advised the Iraqi opposition. He said delays in settling the long-term humanitarian program for Iraqis would hurt the council's credibility. "The oil-for-food program exists, through establishment by the Security Council, to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. The Security Council needs to recognize its responsibility and stop playing politics with humanitarian and food aid," Phillips said.

The establishment of the humanitarian program, Phillips said, would also be a key first step for U.S. aims to stabilize Iraq and reform the Iraqi political system. "If you don't have a secure environment, then you're not going to be able to deliver life-saving supplies, and you run the risk of Iraq slipping backward and there being widespread revenge taking and vigilantism," Phillips said.

The leaders of the United States, Britain, and Spain issued a statement in the Azores 10 days ago in which they vowed to seek Security Council resolutions ensuring the delivery of aid and endorsing a post-conflict administration.

U.S. officials this week have reaffirmed that declaration. At the same time, some details have emerged about U.S. plans to install a civilian administration for an unsettled interim period. News reports say the U.S. plan is to install U.S. civilians in Iraqi ministries alongside Iraqis appointed by an interim Iraqi authority made up of Iraqi opposition leaders, officials in exile, and other Iraqis not yet identified.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indicated yesterday that the sequence of events still needs to be finalized. "We've been putting this together, looking at how we help the transition from military rule to civilian to Iraqi rule, and I don't think the whole pattern is complete yet, but we'll talk about that when the time comes," Boucher said.

But the sooner the process is guided by the international community, the better are its chances for broader acceptance, says Eric Schwartz, who directed a recent independent task force on post-conflict Iraq for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Schwartz told RFE/RL that the interim-government scenario is emerging as a crucial issue. "Everyone understands the critical importance of avoiding the perception that this is sort of a U.S.-dominated operation. So there will be a very strong need to ensure Iraqi authority as quickly as possible," Schwartz said.

A key issue for the international community, Schwartz said, is what role outside bodies will play in ensuring public security while the Iraqi police and security forces are restructured.

International views on Iraq will get a new airing today and tomorrow when the Security Council holds its first public debate since the start of the Iraq war. The session is due to start today at 9 p.m. Prague time.