The Security Council extended the UN's Iraq oil-for-food program for 180 days late Thursday in a unanimous vote that belied sharp differences over its ten-year-old Iraqi sanctions regime.
In a brief debate following the vote, Russia and Britain exchanged barbed comments about the "no-fly zones" which British and US warplanes have enforced over Iraq since the 1990 Gulf War.
Other members of the council weighed in to defend or to criticize the sanctions, imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait at the start of the war.
Tunisia and China said the UN's comprehensive embargo had caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq. The Netherlands blamed the sufferings of the Iraqi people on "inexplicable actions" by their government in implementing the oil-for-food program.
In voting, the council took further steps to streamline procedures for vetting imports under the program -- established in December 1996 -- and to address the parlous state of Iraq's oil industry.
The vote was taken half an hour before the current, seventh phase of the program was due to expire at midnight New York time (0400 GMT Friday).
It had been delayed by a squabble over the wording of a paragraph asking UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to order an independent and comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Iraq within six months.
China, Russia and Tunisia said they had voted for the resolution despite misgivings that the words "arising from the sanctions" had been deleted from the text after the word "situation".
The extension of the program was the first since the council overhauled its sanctions regime in UN Resolution 1284, passed on December 17.
That resolution offered Iraq the possibility of having sanctions suspended if it allowed the United Nations to resume arms inspections and cooperated fully with the inspectors.
Britain's representative on the council, Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, said the unanimous vote on oil for food "sends a very important signal as we seek to implement Resolution 1284."
But his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, retorted: "There are council resolutions, and there are realities."
Lavrov, who was one of four members to abstain on Resolution 1284, said the council was "trying to deal with the symptoms of a disease" rather than go to the heart of the problem.
"The only way to radically improve the situation in Iraq is the speedy lifting of sanctions," he said.
He added that the crisis had been exacerbated by the actions of British and US planes, and quoted British defense ministry figures to show that Iraq had been attacked 650 times since December 1998, and that the number of bombs dropped on it had increased 30-fold.
Greenstock said Britain was enforcing the no-fly zones in line with Security Council policy to protect people living in areas outside Iraqi government control.
British planes only used weapons to defend themselves from Iraqi attack and the growing number of attacks explained the increased use of ordnance, he said.
Lavrov said he knew of no reference to no-fly zones in a council resolution, and suggested asking Annan for "a comprehensive legal assessment of what is going on in Iraq” -- UNITED NATIONS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)