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Gary Younge
Blueprint gives coalition control of oil

The proposal, which would relegate the UN to an advisory role, alongside the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, while lifting economic sanctions, was expected to pass despite serious concerns from some permanent members.

The resolution will probably face amendments from France and Russia, who have favoured suspending the sanctions but advocate some control being vested in the UN until an Iraqi government is established.

The French president, Jacques Chirac, yesterday intimated that there was room for negotiation: "I can confirm to you that France's will [is] to undertake discussions on the future of this country in an open and constructive spirit."

Russia, which has considerable economic interests at stake, was less emollient. Before yesterday's meeting, Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov warned that he would pose "lots of questions" to US ambassador John Negroponte.

In a further sign of the confusion over the US role in Iraq, the defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that a one-year timeline attached to the presence of US and British forces in Iraq was probably "just a review period" in the overall postwar plan. "Anyone who thinks they know how long it's going to take is fooling themselves," Mr Rumsfeld said. "It's not knowable."

Outside the UN, the proposals provoked a vociferous response from the European Union's commissioner for aid and development, Poul Nielsen, who accused America of seeking to seize control of Iraq's vast oil wealth.

Mr Nielson, a Dane who has just returned from a three-day fact-finding mission to Iraq said the US was "on its way to becoming a member of Opec", the Middle Eastern oil cartel.

"They will appropriate the oil," he told the Danish public service DR radio station. "It is very difficult to see how this would make sense in any other way.

"The unwillingness to give the UN a genuine, legal well-defined role, also in the broader context of rebuilding Iraq after Saddam ... speaks a language that is quite clear."

Eager to avoid another bitter transatlantic diplomatic row, the commission headquarters issued a swift rebuttal, saying Mr Nielson's views did not "reflect the opinion of the commission as a whole".

Iraqis also responded frostily to the plans, praising the lifting of sanctions but calling for the UN or an Iraqi interim government to take charge of the nation's oil wealth.

"It is a good initiative that should have taken place a long time ago," said Ragheb Naaman, 43, who works for Iraq's military industrialisation commission in charge of developing weapons. "But we don't accept that the revenues be controlled by the United States and Britain."

The text, which two senior council diplomats called "hard" and "in your face", defines the US and Britain as "occupying powers" - a legal designation apparently aimed at reassuring council members that America will adhere to its obligations under international law. A former state and defence department official told the Wall Street Journal that occupying power status meant the US cannot give all reconstruction contracts to American companies and "it can't choose the political leadership of the country".

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