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U.N. lifts sanctions against Iraq

Washington May 22. In a major victory for the Bush administration, the United Nations Security Council has overwhelmingly voted for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq and endorsed the idea of a U.S.-led administration in Baghdad.

The resolution was passed by 14-0 vote with Syria abstaining. The Republican administration was indeed hoping for a unanimous vote; but no one really expected Syria to endorse a resolution that legitimised the "foreign occupation" of an Arab country.

"It's time for the Iraqi people to benefit from their natural resources," the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, said. The U.S. and Britain reworked the draft several times in order to accommodate the wishes of the other Council members. But in the end, there was little doubt that Washington had its way with the other major powers not wanting to start yet another divisive round.

The resolution essentially legitimises that the U.S. and Britain as occupying powers will remain firmly in control of Iraq until such time an "internationally-recognised representative government is established". France, Russia and Germany wanted a higher profile for the U.N. but had to settle for something less. The U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, who attended today's historic vote, promised to appoint a special representative soon. And speculation is that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has the backing of the Bush administration, will be the choice.

Earlier, there was definite indication that France would not veto the resolution, although its abstention was a possibility. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepan, said the resolution opened the door for a central U.N. role and stressed that even if the text of the final resolution did not go far enough, the world body was back in the game.

Council diplomats are hoping that with the lifting of sanctions, Iraqi oil exports will start soon. About eight million barrels of Iraqi oil stored at a port in Turkey can be sold immediately.

The U.S. has agreed to allow Mr. Annan six more months to phase out the oil-for-food programme, which has currently $13 billion. But the U.N. will have to transfer $1 billion immediately to a fund controlled by the U.S. and its allies.

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