The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to revise significantly the 12-year old sanctions on Iraq by allowing Baghdad to get civilian supplies into the country more easily.
The new plan represents the first substantive change in the oil-for-food program that allows Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for the purchase of food, medicine and other goods to ease the impact of sanctions. The sanctions were imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Military supplies remain banned, and items that have both military and civilian use, such as trucks and communication equipment, will still require careful review before they are allowed into Iraq. But the list of goods that Iraq can readily obtain has been expanded. And U.N. officials say items that need more scrutiny will be pushed through faster.
Tuesday's vote was the first major overhaul of the sanctions regime. One of the benefits of the new system would be the release of contracts that Washington has put on hold, including hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Russian goods.
Iraq is not necessarily pleased with the easier terms. It wants all the sanctions lifted. That has been its position for years.
Ambassador Sergei Lavrov of Russia acknowledged after the vote that Iraq's economy can not recover until the punitive measures are lifted.
"Of course, I have to say that any other modification of the humanitarian program, which might be agreed to in the future, will not be able to solve the problems of the Iraqi economy, and it is only through a lifting of sanctions that Iraq can revive its economy, and therefore there is a need for a comprehensive solution," he said.
The Security Council will not lift the sanctions until U.N. weapons inspectors verify that Iraq is no longer producing weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors have been barred from Iraq since late 1998. Current negotiations between U.N. officials and the Iraq government on getting them back in are moving slowly, with both sides uncertain of a satisfactory outcome.