France, in a surprise move, Tuesday called for the suspension of economic sanctions against Iraq and the termination of the oil-for-food program. And, the Security Council met with Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix at the United Nations in New York.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere proposes that the crippling economic sanctions on the Iraqi population should be suspended at once. At the same time, he says that the U.N. weapons inspections teams should work alongside the U.S.-led coalition in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"In this context I have proposed that the decision should be taken to immediately suspend the civilian sanctions and I also proposed that there should be some work to find a practical and pragmatic arrangement which in our view is necessary to coordinate and combine the work of the American teams on the ground and the work of the U.N. Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he said.

Mr. de la Sabliere announced his proposal following a Security Council meeting with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.

It came at a time when Security Council members are trying the define the United Nations role for a post-war Iraq.

The Bush administration has said it wants the U.S.-led coalition, rather than the United Nations, to conduct the search for banned weapons in Iraq. It is pushing the Security Council to lift the U.N. sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"The coalition effort will be substantially increased and expanded," said John Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. "And I did take some time to explain to the council the various types of activities the coalition envisages undertaking in terms of interviewing scientists, examining documents and going to the all the different suspected sites and so forth. For the time being and for the foreseeable future we visualize that as being a coalition activity."

Russian ambassador Sergey Lavrov said his government is not opposed to the lifting of the sanctions, but wants U.N. inspectors first to certify that Iraq is free of banned weapons and the means to deliver them.

The Security Council meeting with chief inspector Blix was expected to be the first of many on the issue.

Mr. Blix says that when the situation on the ground permits, the U.N. teams could return to Iraq on relatively short notice. He told reporters that U.N. arms experts had the most credibility to lead the search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He also described "shortcomings" with the coalition's intelligence on Iraq's banned weapons.