Troubled by reports that Iraq may be trying to make nuclear and germ weapons, the Security Council isn’t likely to lift sanctions soon, diplomats said Wednesday.
France and Russia had been talking about considering lifting the sanctions if weapons inspectors gave Iraq a favorable report, but a French spokesman said Wednesday that the time isn’t right.
The sanctions, imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, come up for a routine review by the Security Council in mid-May. They are reviewed every 60 days.
To counter criticism that sanctions are hurting ordinary Iraqis, the U.N. Security Council is considering a plan to let Iraq sell oil to pay for food and medicine for its 18 million people.
Iraq last week rejected the idea, but Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday the two sides appeared to be making progress toward agreeing on an arrangement that Iraq would accept.
Diplomats said they expect to vote on the draft resolution as early as today. The measure would allow Iraq to sell $1 billion of crude every three months under international surveillance.
Earlier Wednesday, chief U.N. weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus told the council Iraq has failed to account for 17 tons of material that can be used to breed germ warfare agents.
British Ambassador David Hannay called the report “very worrying.”
U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said “the most disturbing fact is that Iraq may well have produced biological weapons that remain unaccounted for.”
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said reports that Iraq is secretly working on a nuclear bomb could also harm chances of lifting the sanctions.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Duque said it was too early to consider lifting the sanctions.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were due to present a report on Iraq to the council this week.