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U.N. rebuffs appeal to end Iraqi sanctions

The Security Council agreed Monday to maintain sanctions against Iraq but postponed action on calls by Russia and others to scale back wide-ranging inspections of Iraqi nuclear facilities.

The decision to prolong the seven-year embargo came despite a personal appeal by Iraq's foreign minister to ease sanctions and threats from Baghdad about future cooperation with the U.N. inspection program.

Council President Hisashi Owada of Japan told reporters "there was no consensus" to modify the sanctions. No vote was taken.

"Sanctions will not be lifted because Iraq has not complied," U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said.

But the United States came under strong pressure from Russia, France, China and others to have the council formally acknowledge Iraq's progress in nuclear disarmament, a move that would effectively cut back inspections of nuclear facilities.

Russia circulated a draft resolution saying Iraq has fully cooperated with U.N. inspectors on nuclear issues but would still be subject to inspections if the International Atomic Energy Agency receives more information about its clandestine program.

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov cited a recent IAEA report that found no evidence Iraq was still secretly building nuclear weapons. China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Shen Guofang, said weapons inspections "should be closed as soon as possible."

France's U.N. ambassador, Alain Dejammet, said it was too early to lift sanctions but argued that the council should take stock of Iraq's progress in nuclear weapons.

Richardson acknowledged that Iraq had made progress in dismantling its nuclear weapons program but said it was too early to lift economic sanctions or reduce arms inspections.

"There appears to be some progress in the nuclear file," Richardson said. "However, we believe that it is premature to totally close that file without further steps" or to end the sanctions.

Owada said he could not predict when the council would decide on the Russian proposal but said he expected it soon.

U.N. arms inspectors must certify that Iraq has destroyed all its illegal weapons, including long-range missiles and chemical, nuclear and biological arms, before the council will lift sanctions imposed in 1990 after President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Despite the favorable IAEA report, the U.N. Special Commission, which searches for the other weapons, reported recently it had made "virtually no progress" over the last six months in verifying Iraqi compliance.

The review is the first since Iraq signed a deal last February with Secretary-General Kofi Annan to open all sites, including presidential compounds, to U.N. arms inspectors.

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