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UN Security Council Drawing Up Plans for Humanitarian Aid to Iraq - 2003-03-21

The United Nations Security Council is drawing up plans for immediate humanitarian aid for Iraq. Council members are attempting to retool the Oil for Food program, under which Iraqi oil is sold to buy food, medicine, and other critical supplies.

The U.N. Security Council met Friday to begin drafting a new Council resolution to restart the Oil for Food program.

Under the program set up under a 1995 Council resolution, Iraq's oil is sold to bring food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid to Iraqis. The program is run by the United Nations, but the Iraqi government has responsibility for distribution of the aid itself. With the outbreak of war, the program has been suspended and all U.N. workers have been pulled out of Iraq.

Germany's Ambassador to the United Nations Gunther Pleuger said the Council, which has been bitterly divided over the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, is united in trying to help Iraq's citizens. "We don't have, let us say, 'political controversy'," said Mr. Pleuger. "We are just trying to figure out the best way of making the system function again."

Nevertheless, the program has taken on a political tint in light of the current circumstances. There are questions about who should have responsibility for running the program in the absence of a functioning Iraqi government, particularly if the United States puts an interim military administration in place to run the country.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte said the existing Oil for Food program should be under the authority of the U.N. Secretary- General, at least for now. "Implementation of the existing Oil for Food program, that is the question we are talking about now," he said. "And I think there's a general consensus that some such authority in the event of the deposition of Iraq's government needs to be devolved to the secretary-general, at least for a period of time."

But, he added, the United States will ensure that the benefits of Iraq's resources will be plowed back into the country. "At such time as the present Iraq regime should fall, to the extent that we have any responsibility for the matter, we will insure that Iraq's natural resources, including its oil are used entirely for the benefit of the people of Iraq," said Mr. Negroponte.

U.N. officials have said that revenues from Iraqi oil sales could be affected if oil wells have been set ablaze by Iraqi troops, as has been reported.