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Iraq: Security Council Unites To Revise Oil-For-Food Program

United Nations, 28 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has temporarily set aside its differences over the war in Iraq and passed a resolution to revive the main humanitarian program for Iraqis, placing it under UN control.

The resolution authorizes UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for the next 45 days, to make adjustments to the program to make sure health supplies and food have priority.

Annan says the military situation will determine how quickly the UN can return its staff to Iraq to run the program, which fed 14 million Iraqis before the war.

Annan's deputy, Louise Frechette, told reporters it was unclear when steps could be taken to deliver the billions of dollars in goods already paid for in the program.

"We will not know with any degree of certainty what supplies can actually be shipped in the 45-day period stipulated in the resolution until we have contacted the suppliers to establish where the supplies have got to, whether they are still available, when and where they could arrive in Iraq and at what extra cost."

Many council members welcomed the unanimous vote today as a sign that the recently divided chamber can still find unity of purpose in urgent circumstances. Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, who chaired the committee that revised the plan, hailed the spirit of cooperation that allowed the measure to pass.

"This is a signal to the people of Iraq that they are not forgotten and this is a signal also to the international community and to the international humanitarian organizations to do what they can to alleviate the lot of a suffering people," Pleuger said.

But difficult negotiations remain ahead for the council on further revisions to the humanitarian program as well as considerations over the administration of postwar Iraq. The resolution approved today says the main responsibility for addressing the consequences of the war in Iraq falls to the United States and Britain in the event they take control of the country. The resolution also reaffirms "the respect for the right of the people of Iraq to determine their own political future and to control their own natural resources."

After today's vote, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States was moving ahead with efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Iraqis. When conditions permit, he said, the United States will help coordinate the distribution of supplies with UN and other agencies. The ambassadors of Russia and Syria stressed that today's resolution in no way legitimizes the U.S.-British military operation in Iraq, which they said was illegal.

Amid uncertainty over when the oil-for-food program can become effective, the major UN humanitarian agencies today launched an appeal for $2.2 billion to provide immediate assistance to Iraqis.

Frechette said the U.S.-led war to overthrow the Iraqi regime is already causing strains on Iraqi civilians. A prolonged war, she says, could cause a serious humanitarian crisis.

"The humanitarian impact is already being felt and could grow much worse in the days and weeks to come. But the extent and nature of its needs is very hard to assess. At the moment, we have only fragmentary information about conditions inside the country."

The UN's World Food Program says a majority of Iraqis will run out of food supplies by May. So it is planning to use $1.3 billion from today's appeal to support a food-distribution system capable of meeting the needs of all Iraqis.

In addition to food, $900 million is to be set aside for areas like water purification, health care for children, shelter, and provisions for displaced people inside Iraq as well as refugees who flee into neighboring countries.