(CNSNews.com) - The Security Council decided Friday to extend the UN humanitarian program in Iraq for six additional months while members pushed toward a vote on a broader resolution to return UN weapons inspectors to Iraq after a year-long absence.
All 15 members of the council voted in favor of the 180-day extension to the UN oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell $5.2 billion in oil over six months to buy humanitarian goods for its people.
Wire service reports say that Friday's vote came in sharp contrast to one last week, when the United States only narrowly managed to get a week-long extension to the program.
Baghdad halted oil exports on November 22nd after the council approved a two-week extension to the program but has since said it would resume pumping if the council passed the six-month continuation. Oil industry experts say exports could resume by mid-December.
Ahead of today's vote, Britain on Thursday formally introduced a comprehensive resolution that would not only improve the oil-for-food program but return weapons inspectors to Iraq. The resolution would suspend sanctions if Baghdad cooperates fully with inspectors and shows progress toward answering questions about its programs to build weapons of mass destruction.
Arms experts left Iraq in December 1998 ahead of air strikes launched by the United States and Britain for what the two countries said was Iraq's failure to cooperate with inspectors.
Iraq has barred the inspectors from returning until the Security Council lifts the economic sanctions it imposed after Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, the current council president, wouldn't say whether he would schedule a vote on the comprehensive draft this weekend, as the United States wants, or give Russia and China more time. "The point is that we are now on the run to a final vote," Greenstock said Thursday night.
Russia and China want more time and negotiations to alter elements of the draft resolution, and neither country has indicated how it would vote if the US and Britain were to push for a vote this weekend..
Primarily, Iraq's main allies differ with most of the rest of the council on the criteria for what would trigger the suspension of sanctions. They want the suspension to occur soon after inspectors arrive, and be triggered by a less-rigorous interpretation of "full cooperation" than demanded by the United States and Britain, Western diplomats said Thursday.
A Russian veto would doom the draft resolution, which has been under negotiation for almost the entire year that inspectors have been out of Iraq.
A Russian abstention on the vote, which could well be coupled with abstentions from China and France, would allow the resolution to pass, but would signal to Iraq that the demands in it didn't have the united support of the full council.