The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday extending the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq and setting the stage for an overhaul of U.N. sanctions against Baghdad next year.
The resolution was drafted by the United States and Russia, which have been feuding over policy toward Iraq for several years, and marked another sign of growing cooperation between Washington and Moscow, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Disputes over Iraq usually left extension of the oil-for-food humanitarian program to the last moment. But the U.S.-Russian compromise enabled the council to approve a six-month extension one day before the current phase expires at midnight Friday.
Tunisia had threatened to block consensus unless the council included a provision authorizing the return to Iraq of civilian aircraft stranded in Tunisia and Jordan since the 1991 Gulf War. But it dropped the demand after behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure from Washington, Western diplomats said.
The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil on condition that the proceeds are spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, and war reparations.
When the program came up for renewal in June, the United States and Britain tried to include a sanctions overhaul plan tightening the 11-year-old military embargo on Saddam Hussein's regime and clamping down on Iraqi oil smuggling while easing the flow of civilian goods into Iraq.
A list of dual-use and military-related goods needing review was a key part of the proposal.
But Washington and London shelved the plan when the Russians threatened a veto. Russia, Iraq's closest Security Council ally and a major beneficiary of contracts to purchase Iraqi oil and to sell Iraq humanitarian supplies, saw the goods review list as a threat to its commercial interests.
Under the compromise reached this week, Russia agreed to approve by May 30 a new list of goods needing U.N. review before shipment to Iraq. A provisional list ranging from night vision goggles to radar and telecommunications equipment was attached to the resolution.
The United States, in turn, agreed to Russia's long-standing demand for ``a comprehensive settlement'' of the sanctions issue �� including steps leading to lifting the military embargo imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Diplomats said the United States made an important concession in supporting Russia's call to clarify a controversial December 1999 Security Council resolution to ease sanctions in return for Baghdad's cooperation with weapons inspectors. Russia says the steps Iraq must take to have the sanctions lifted are not clearly explained.
The United States long has maintained that the resolution needs no clarification, and that Baghdad must allow weapons inspectors back into the country before sanctions are lifted.