Syria, Iraq’s neighbor and the only Arab country on the 15-nation council, voted for the sanctions at the last moment, after delaying the vote for several days.
The resolution is the result of months of negotiations among the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China — the security council’s permanent members. The measures represent a compromise between the United States, which has expressed interest in toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and Russia, an Iraqi ally that wants the U.N. sanctions suspended.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and British officials first proposed the resolution in an effort to counter Iraq’s contention that the sanctions have killed thousands of innocent civilians.
“We believe it will facilitate greatly the movement of humanitarian and purely civilian goods to the Iraqi economy,” U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told reporters.
Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.N., reacted angrily.
“We see the American political goals in this exercise,” he said.
The U.N. approved sanctions against Iraq in August 1990 after Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded Kuwait. The council established the oil-for-food exception to the embargoes in 1996, allowing Iraq to sell oil in order to buy food, medicine and other supplies needed by ordinary Iraqis.
Under the current plan, Iraq’s oil sale revenues go into a U.N. escrow account, which pays suppliers for civilian imports. Iraq currently exports around $10 billion worth of oil per year under the U.N. program.
The resolution renews the food-for-oil plan for six months, until Nov. 25, and imposes several changes to the way import items are reviewed.
Currently, the council’s sanction committee reviews all imports except food and medicine. Under this system, the United States has blocked $5.2 billion worth of goods Iraq has ordered.
The new plan lessens the role played by the United States and gives more power and detailed guidance to U.N. officials and disarmament agencies.
The resolution passed today contains a 300-page “goods review list” detailing “dual use” items that could have military applications, including trucks and communications equipment.
The result could be the release of some previously blocked imports, including more than $700 million worth of contracts for Russian goods, diplomats said.
The U.S. says sanctions will not be lifted until U.N. inspectors return to Iraq. They left in December 1998 and have not been allowed back.