U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte is calling on the Security Council to rapidly approve a resolution allowing Iraqi oil to be sold. The money would be used to help pay for relief and reconstruction in Iraq. The United States, Britain and Spain, co-sponsors of a resolution to lift sanctions against Iraq, want the Security Council to bring their proposal to a vote next week.
U.S. officials had said they expected the Security Council to vote on the resolution by June 3, when the United Nations Oil-for-Food program expires.
Now, Ambassador Negroponte says that vote to end 12 years of trade and economic sanctions will come as early as next week.
"For us, the most important point is we think we need to move quickly," he said. "The sanctions need to be lifted as soon as possible and we need to move on with many of the pressing questions which relate to restoring economic activity to the hands of the people of Iraq."
The U.S. diplomat emphasizes that Iraq is ready to resume oil sales.
"The oil tanks are almost full in Iraq, the crude is just about to reach the point of just sitting their waiting to be exported," he said. "It is important that as soon as possible we be in a position to see the oil being lifted out of Iraq once again."
Mr. Negroponte made his comments after the first of several meetings with U.N. technical and legal experts to clarify key points of the resolution for Security Council members.
The U.S. ambassador says a new, revised, resolution will be submitted Thursday.
In addition to lifting sanctions, the draft resolution calls for Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a special coordinator for Iraq but gives the British and U.S.-led coalition broad control of Iraqi oil and sets up an Iraqi assistance fund to use oil revenue to pay for humanitarian aid.
It also proposes phasing out the Oil-for-Food program, which had provided food and medical supplies to 60 percent of Iraqis in exchange for Iraqi oil since 1996.
Some council members, including Russia, want the U.N. to play a more prominent role in Iraq and have expressed misgivings about the extent of control the U.S. and British-led coalition would have over Iraqi resources.
However, Russia's ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, says the discussion has helped answer some of the questions raised in recent debates.
"Some of the responses given today by co-sponsors certainly went in the direction of some of the questions raised during previous discussions and we welcome it. For example, the readiness to reiterate the respect for Iraqi right to control their natural resources, the readiness to look in more detail in some of the technical things involving the United Nations role in Iraq, including political process," said Ambassador Lavrov.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has also discussed the issue with Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow.
Earlier, Russia had said it wanted U.N. weapons inspectors to declare Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction before lifting sanctions. The United States says the coalition is responsible for the search for banned weapons.