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UN: Security Council Seeks Clarifications On UN Role In Postwar Iraq

With differences still apparent, U.S. officials say they expect the United Nations Security Council to vote next week on a resolution effectively placing Iraq under control of a U.S.-led coalition. Council members continue to seek clarification on the role of the UN, especially its weapons inspectors. Washington says it will present a modified draft of the resolution to council members today that attempts to address their concerns. RFE/RL reports from the United Nations.

United Nations, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN Security Council members are calling for a more detailed description of the UN's role in Iraq in the draft resolution that seeks to authorize the U.S. administration of the country.

A wide range of questions emerged in the council's first formal debate on the resolution yesterday. Diplomats on the 15-member council expressed special concern about the duties of the United Nations in the political transformation of Iraq.

The resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain, and Spain assigns a list of duties to a UN special coordinator. These include coordinating humanitarian aid and helping to restore rule of law.

The UN would also help oversee the proposed Iraqi Assistance Fund, to which all oil revenues would flow. But the U.S.-led coalition, which toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, would control payments from the fund.

Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, said yesterday that the UN's political role needs to be specified.

"The important issues are: How is the political process being organized? The European Union, of which we are a part, has asked for an important and central role of the United Nations and also, in the resolution of the co-sponsors, it said that the United Nations should have a vital role. Now we have to add substance to this," Pleuger said.

Germany and Russia are among the countries calling for the resolution to include a reference to the UN weapons inspection mission in Iraq, known as UNMOVIC (United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission). U.S. officials have deployed their own weapons experts in Iraq and say they don't foresee a role for UNMOVIC.

But other council members say previous resolutions require there to be a UN verification on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before sanctions can be lifted. They also say that the U.S. draft's call for phasing out the oil-for-food program in four months does not mention the status of UNMOVIC, which is funded by oil revenues.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was unable to reach agreement on the issue in talks in Moscow yesterday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

"As we engage on this new resolution, there are many issues that have to be discussed within the Security Council, one of which has to do with UNMOVIC. We didn't resolve that here today," Powell said.

Powell is due to discuss the draft resolution tomorrow with German leaders in Berlin.

At UN headquarters, U.S. diplomats sought to demonstrate flexibility while at the same time urging quick action by the Security Council.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters during a break in talks yesterday that Washington and its partners would present a revised draft to council experts today. He said they expect to put the resolution to a vote next week.

"We think we need to move quickly. The sanctions need to be lifted as soon as possible, and we need to move on with many of the pressing questions which relate to restoring economic activity to the hands of the people of Iraq," Negroponte said.

The United States modified language in the resolution that appeared to offer a sweeping solution to some of Iraq's huge debt, estimated to be as high as $383 billion. The resolution called for making Iraqi oil sales immune from attachment by creditors to allow the revenues to be used in the country's reconstruction.

But Negroponte clarified to council members that the resolution would not invalidate debt claims on Iraq but grant a pause before such issues would be addressed.

"I assured delegations today that our draft resolution is not intended to address the question of Iraq's external debt. That is an issue which, in our view, is best dealt with in other mechanisms and in other fora, particularly the Paris Club. So as far as we're concerned, our resolution is silent on the issue of Iraq's external debt," he said.

The Paris Club is an informal group of rich creditor states whose role is to find coordinated and sustainable solutions to payment problems of debtor nations.

Despite continuing differences over the draft, Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday the talks were progressing in a constructive manner.

"We welcome it. For example, the readiness to reiterate the respect for Iraqis' right to control their natural resources, the readiness to look in more detail into some of the technical things involving the UN role in Iraq, including political process, and we have to see how it's going to be reflected on paper. But there are still some questions -- quite a number of them -- which remain," Lavrov said.

Revisions to the U.S.-British-Spanish draft are expected to focus on the role of the United Nations in Iraq. U.S. and British officials have said the political role of a UN coordinator could be expanded, depending on whom UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan chooses.