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UN Reviews Iraq Oil-for-Food Program - 2002-01-14

A United Nations official has arrived in Baghdad to evaluate the "oil-for-food" humanitarian program meant to offset the impact of international embargoes against Iraq. This will be the first visit for the U.N. official since August of 2000.

Benon Sevan has several issues facing him before the United States will agree to approve funds for the program.

For instance, Iraq has refused to grant visas for U.N. staff or representatives of firms that have contracts to clear mines in northern Iraq.

In addition, the U.N. Security Council has approved money from Iraq's oil revenues to pay workers to upgrade oil equipment. The United States wants to know how those funds will be used before approving them.

Under the oil-for-food program, Iraq is allowed to sell oil to buy food, medicine and other civilian goods. The oil revenues have to be deposited in a U.N. account out of which Gulf War reparations are paid.

The program was designed to ease the hardship of international sanctions against Iraq, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

However, if Iraq fails to provide required information, or if a U.N. member believes the goods in question have military uses, supplies can be held up indefinitely or entirely rejected.

Last November, Russia agreed with the United States and Britain to approve a "goods review list" by May 30. The list would contain items that Iraq cannot order without special approval from the Security Council. Iraq would be free to purchase any item not on the list. Observers believe the new list will considerably reduce blocked contracts.