UNITED NATIONS -- A month after U.S. and British missiles rained down on Iraq, the Security Council is beginning its first serious discussions on how to resume monitoring Baghdad's weapons programs while improving the humanitarian situation for the Iraqi people.
Several proposals are on the table and more came today: Russia briefed the other permanent members of the council -- France, China, Britain and the United States -- on its amendments to a French proposal to lift the oil embargo on Iraq while instituting a new surveillance system to make sure Saddam Hussein doesn't buy any more weapons, diplomats said.The council convened to hold further discussions.
Washington came up with its own initiative Thursday but focused purely on the humanitarian side. The plan would allow Baghdad to sell unlimited amounts of oil but would maintain the controls in place requiring that the proceeds go toward buying food and medicine for Iraqis.
The proposal would streamline the bulky U.N. bureaucracy, allowing contracts to bring food and medicine into Iraq to be automatically approved. Washington would also work to improve contract approval for spare parts to improve Iraq's oil infrastructure.
And the plan would allow Baghdad to borrow against a U.N. escrow fund to buy such goods, encourage humanitarian contributions and strengthen UNICEF and other U.N. programs already there.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh took pains to distance the U.S. initiative from the French, repeating U.S. concerns that U.N. resolutions require Iraq to be completely disarmed before the oil embargo can be lifted.
"We do not believe that Iraq is disarmed," Burleigh told reporters after presenting the plan to the council. "And it appears that the French proposal makes that assumption."
Both proposals were intended to jump-start council discussions on the Iraqi question in the aftermath of the December airstrikes by U.S. and British forces. The attacks were motivated by U.N. claims that Iraq wasn't cooperating with U.N. weapons inspections.
The proposals also point to the mounting concern that the oil embargo has failed to achieve the U.N. goal of disarming Iraq and is only hurting the Iraqi people.
Baghdad responded to the initiatives with a statement Thursday carried by the official Iraqi News Agency saying: "Sanctions against Iraq in all their facets should be lifted immediately."
Council members, meanwhile, found the proposal "interesting and positive," but needed further time to study it, council president Celso Amorim of Brazil said.
Nevertheless, he welcomed the fact that the council was -- finally -- discussing Iraq after nearly a month of near paralysis sparked by the airstrikes.
Benon Sevan, the head of the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq, wouldn't comment on the U.S. or French proposals but welcomed the "flexibility shown by all members" in trying to help the Iraqi people.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, however, sided with the French, saying: "If it doesn't go to lifting sanctions, it doesn't go far enough."
Meanwhile, new council member Canada suggested the 15-member body receive two comprehensive reports assessing the disarmament and humanitarian situation in Iraq, council diplomats said.