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Saturday, June 20, 1998 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK

World: Middle East

Iraq warms to UN oil offer

Iraq has accepted Friday's UN Security Council resolution on oil for food

From Nick Childs in Baghdad:

Iraq appears to have softened its stance on the UN Security Council resolution passed on Friday clearing the way for Iraq to import $300m of much-needed industry equipment as part of the UN's oil-for-food agreement with Baghdad.

An Iraqi foreign ministry statement said Iraq would work with the agreement under certain conditions. Previously, Baghdad had hinted it might reject the resolution.

The Iraqi statement amounts to a qualified acceptance of the latest Security Council resolution.

Baghdad said it would work with the resolution on the basis of the original oil-for-food agreement and on the understanding it remains temporary.

The United Nations had previously agreed to boost the oil-for-food agreement, which is an exception to the UN's sanctions on Baghdad, to help it purchase humanitarian supplies.

Dilapidated oil industry

But Iraq needs new equipment for its dilapidated oil industry and the resolution authorising this equipment became a focus of new political wrangling at the United Nations between those countries still suspicious of Iraq's intentions and those more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Under the new UN resolution, the oil-for-food agreement will not automatically be re-negotiated every six months. Instead it will remain in effect, which the United States says will reduce disruptions to the program.

But Baghdad complained that the United States and Britain want to turn the oil-for-food agreement into a substitute for lifting sanctions.

The Iraqi statement praised Russia, France, China and Brazil for, it said, helping to omit what it called political clauses in the resolution.

A compromise reached in New York means Iraq can submit new proposals, provided they are approved by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Against a background of mounting expectations that sanctions on Iraq could be lifted soon, the row over this latest resolution underlines the continuing tensions both within the Security Council over how to deal with Iraq, and between Iraq and the United Nations.

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