The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have agreed to revise sanctions against Iraq. The changes would allow Iraq to continue its crude oil sales under U.N. supervision.
White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, says the new sanctions program is a step forward for the United Nations as it tightens controls over goods with potential military applications while making it easier for Iraqi civilians to get access to humanitarian supplies.
"The president thinks it is very effective now to have a tighter sanctions regime in place," he said, "that prevents the Iraqi regime from getting access to material that can help it produce weapons or engage in war while at the same time expressing America's long-standing humanitarian concern for the needs of the people of the region."
Mr. Fleischer offered few details of the new plan which he says the Bush Administration expects the full Security Council to discuss and vote in favor of later this week.
The so-called oil-for-food sanctions have been in place since Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. At the end of the Gulf War that followed, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein also agreed to U.N. weapons inspectors. Those officials were ultimately forced to leave Iraq, again raising concerns that the country may be developing weapons of mass destruction.
President Bush says Iraq is a threat to world peace because it could help terrorists acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has been pushing the United Nations to tighten a sanctions program the president described as "swiss cheese" because it is so full of holes.
Mr. Fleischer says the new plan is an improvement over the current sanctions program, which he says is often not followed.
"The president believes it is far, far better for the world to know that there are certain products that absolutely will not be allowed to go into Iraq," he said, "because they can be used for military purposes or for the purposes of developing weapons of mass destruction, while there will be other goods that can and should go into Iraq to help the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."
Mr. Fleischer says Iraqi civilians will benefit from the new program, but only, he says, if Saddam Hussein stops undermining existing rules with illicit oil sales and demands for kick-backs from petroleum dealers.
Iraq has not reacted to news of the revised sanctions. The country says it will end its 30-day, self-imposed suspension of oil exports on Wednesday. The Iraqi leader called that suspension to protest Israeli military action in Palestinian areas.