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President, Blair Call for International Humanitarian Effort

During a joint press conference that followed a day-long war summit, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the U.N. to reinstate its so-called oil-for-food program suspended a little more than a week ago.

“More than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source for food,” President Bush said. “This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized and the Security Council should give Secretary-General Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance.”

The oil-for-food program, begun in 1996 to ease the impact of economic sanctions on Iraqi civilians, uses limited Iraqi oil revenues to pay for food, medicine and other civilian goods.

The Security Council has been slow to take up the issue, with several states opposed to the war in Iraq worried a U.N. move could be seen as an endorsement of war.

Despite his nation’s opposition to the coalition military action, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France’s priority for Iraq was for the U.N. to pass a resolution allowing the oil-for-food program to restart.

De Villepin also stressed the need for the international community to remain at the core of the rebuilding effort in Iraq.

“The U.N. must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq,” De Villepin said in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London Thursday.

During the press conference at Camp David, Blair said he favored heavy U.N. involvement.

“No doubt, the United Nations has got to be closely involved in this process,” Blair said. He added that he and President Bush agreed on “principles,” but that there was “a huge amount of details … that have to be the subject of discussion.”

But Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday the U.S. would not give up control of a post-war Iraq to the United Nations.

“We didn’t take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds in the future,” Powell told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

As diplomats and coalition leaders discussed aid efforts, humanitarian officials on the ground said the fighting would need to subside before major assistance could get in to the war-ravaged region.

“Any relief the Iraqis get from any parties is always good news, but we need to be able to get inside Iraq, assessing the situation and assisting the most vulnerable people,” Antonia Paradela, a World Food Program spokeswoman in Kuwait, told Reuters. “But we need to do that in a safe environment. It’s far too dangerous there right now.”

The United Nations has announced it is seeking more than $2 billion in emergency humanitarian aid for Iraq from governments worldwide.

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