The United Nations Security Council is holding closed-door consultations to work on a draft resolution that would resume humanitarian aid to Iraq through the U.N. oil-for-food program. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who supports revising the relief program, says he is worried about an increasing number of civilian casualties.
Mr. Annan again cautioned the belligerents to protect civilians, following Iraqi allegations that a U.S. missile struck a residential neighborhood in Baghdad. "In talking about the humanitarian situation," said Mr. Annan, "I must say that I am getting increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict."
Mr. Annan made his comments before meeting with heads of U.N. relief agencies about implementing contingency plans. He said the international organization is prepared to return to Iraq when "the situation permits."
The secretary-general said that he is confident that the Council will soon find a way resume the oil-for-food program, which was the only source of food for more than 60 percent of the Iraqi population and was suspended just prior to the fighting.
The Security Council is bitterly divided on the use of military force to disarm Iraq. The council is working on a draft resolution for resuming the program, but has had sharp differences over revamping the relief program. Some council members have indicated that continuing the program could send a message of approval of the U.S.-led coalition's war in Iraq.
Russia's Ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, says that he is not opposed to using oil-for-food, but believes the U.S.-led coalition should provide the long-term humanitarian aid.
"What we were saying is that just as the oil-for-food is an important source, by the same token, another part of the international law speaks about the responsibilities of the occupying powers, including their responsibilities for meeting the humanitarian needs of the population," said Ambassador Lavrov.
Since 1996, the United Nations and Iraq have jointly run the oil-for-food program to provide humanitarian aid in exchange for oil to Iraqi civilians living under United Nations sanctions imposed after the first Persian Gulf War. Secretary General Annan is asking the Security Council to revise the program so that he can administer it on his own.