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UN Extends Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program - 2002-12-05

The U.N. Security Council Wednesday, after reaching a compromise with the United States, extended for six months the so-called oil-for-food program for Iraq, which aims at easing the hardship caused by years of economic sanctions on Baghdad. The unanimous vote came just hours before the program was due to expire.

The United States finally agreed to a routine six-month extension of the humanitarian program, after the Security Council promised to review within 30 days a list of items that could be banned for export to Iraq. The United States wants to add about 50 items to the current list, civilian goods Washington says could also be used for military purposes.

Among them is atropine, a known antidote to nerve gas, which the United States fears Iraq might use to protect its forces if it resorts to such weapons against an invading army. The Bush administration has warned it is prepared to go to war against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein to disarm.

U.S. ambassador John Negroponte says the United States will hold the Security Council to its pledge and demand a careful scrutiny of what Iraq is allowed to buy. "It is imperative that Iraq not be allowed to take advantage of loopholes or omissions in the goods review list to acquire items that strenghten its conventional and weapons of mass destruction capabilities," says Mr Negroponte.

Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov called the extension of the humanitarian program for Iraq a victory for common sense. At the same time, he suggested Moscow would challenge the United States on the review list and propose that some items be removed.

The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell oil, with the revenues going into a special U.N. account to pay for the goods Iraq imports. The Security Council devised the plan to provide relief against the sanctions it imposed after Baghdad invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990.