Here in Washington, the Bush administration is welcoming a tentative U.S.-Russian compromise in the U.N. Security Council that would lead to an overhaul of U.N. sanctions against Iraq within six months.
The sanctions deal is not yet finalized. But officials here expect it to be wrapped up by Friday when the current phase of U.N. sanctions expires.
Under the compromise, the decade old U.N. "oil for food" sanctions would be extended for another six months, but then replaced by a system that would tighten restrictions on the sale of military-related items to Iraq while greatly easing the flow of civilian goods to the Iraqi people.
Russia, Iraq's closest Security Council ally, had long opposed scrapping the "oil-for-food" arrangement and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that getting Moscow to join a consensus for sanctions reform is a step forward, even if the new system would not take effect until the middle of next year.
"If we can get council agreement now to implement a goods-review list, and to reach agreement on that list and implement it six months, that would be a step forward in terms of moving toward a more predictable situation - one where we can clearly control, with the unanimous support of the Security Council and the 'Perm Five,' the goods that matter when it comes to weapons, and making weapons, and allow other things to go without review by the sanctions committee, so that that flow of civilian goods for civilian uses would be much easier," said Richard Boucher.
Under the draft plan, the Security Council would adopt a list of dual-use and military-related items, the sale of which to Iraq would require approval from the U.N. committee monitoring sanctions.
As part of the pending compromise, the United States is understood to have agreed to support a Russian call to clarify a two year-old Security Council resolution that would ease sanctions in return for Iraqi cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors.
U.S. officials say the sanctions reforms would complicate what they say are Iraq's continuing efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, while undermining Baghdad's argument that sanctions are causing hardships for Iraqi civilians.
The sanctions compromise was discussed at this month's U.S.-Russian summit, and in phone conversations in recent days between Secretary of State Colin Powell and his counterpart in Moscow Igor Ivanov.