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UN Postpones West Africa Mission to Concentrate on Iraq  Resolution

The United Nations Security Council has canceled a mission to war-torn West African nations to focus on the negotiations on lifting sanctions against Iraq.

A delegation was scheduled to leave Wednesday for a special mission to seven West African nations. But council members called off the trip, which was to be led by British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock.

An official in the British Mission to the U.N. says delegates did not want to leave New York during the crucial debate on lifting international sanctions against Iraq.

After unanimously adopting a resolution that sets up a new U.N. mission to support peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, the current president of the council, Pakistan's Munir Akram, said the United Nations remains committed to West Africa.

However, he says the council must devote its immediate attention to Iraq. "The decision to postpone [the trip] was not political, it was merely logistical because I think we have certain pre-occupations here," he said. "As you know, there are important things that are before the council in the next few days and weeks."

Last week, the United States presented a draft resolution, endorsed by Britain and Spain, to end more than a dozen years of U.N. imposed trade and financial sanctions.

The Security Council discussions on the proposal are time sensitive because of the expiration of the Oil-For-Food Program on June 3. U.S. officials have said they expect the council to vote on the measure before the program expires.

Since it was established in 1996, the Oil-For-Food program provided food and medical supplies to 60 percent of Iraqis in exchange for oil.

The resolution aims to phase out the Oil-For-Food program over a period of four months and to give the British and U.S.-led coalition broad control of Iraqi oil resources. The proposal also sets up an Iraqi assistance fund to use oil revenue to pay for humanitarian aid. Council members referred the draft resolution to legal experts to clarify legal and technical questions. However, the Security Council is scheduled to continue its debate on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, council president, Ambassador Akram, says the Security Council trip to West Africa will be rescheduled within a matter of weeks, although no new date has been given. The council is also trying to organize a mission in June to Congo and surrounding nations, which have also seen a recent upsurge in violence.