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UNITED NATIONS (AP) - In a victory for the United States, the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday giving the United Nations' backing to the U.S.-led administration of Iraq and lifting economic sanctions.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote, with Syria - the only Arab nation on the council - absent.

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador, said that after more than a decade of being frozen out of the world economy by sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, "it is time for the Iraqi people to benefit from their natural resources," a reference to the country's vast oil wealth.

The final resolution represented a compromise, after France and Russia pushed for a stronger role for the United Nations. But it left the underlying goal of the United States and its allies intact: Washington and London, as occupying powers, remain firmly in control of Iraq and its oil wealth "until an internationally recognized, representative government is established."

With the immediate lifting of sanctions, oil exports are expected to quickly resume, said Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram and other council diplomats.

There are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage points at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, one of Iraq's two export terminals, that can be sold immediately, diplomats said.

Ahead of the Thursday morning session, the three staunchest opponents of the U.S.-led war on Iraq - France, Russia and Germany - announced they would back the resolution. That left Syria's vote the only one in doubt.

Secretary of State Colin Powell had expressed hope for a unanimous 15-0 vote- but Syria didn't show up for the vote.

The near-unanimous approval for the resolution marks a turnaround for the council, whose unity was shattered over the war. In an acrimonious debate earlier this year, Russia, France and Germany succeeded in blocking a U.S.-backed resolution seeking authorization to attack Iraq.

Council members had made clear they didn't want another debacle over a postwar resolution.

In the two weeks since the United States introduced it, the text of the resolution saw more than 90 changes. The final version gives the United Nations a stronger role in establishing a democratic government than initially envisioned, and the stature of a U.N. special representative in Iraq is increased.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who attended the council meeting, has promised to quickly appoint a representative, and speculation centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has Washington's support.

The world body did not get the lead role that France, Russia and Germany would have liked.

France, which had led opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq, was concerned that the resolution would give the United States too much power, and French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere noted the resolution "is not perfect."

"We believe it now provides a credible framework in which the international community can lend support to the Iraqi people," the ambassador said.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, standing beside his German and Russian counterparts in Paris, said late Wednesday that the three countries decided to vote for the postwar resolution because it "opens the road" for a central U.N. role. He said the three nations had chosen "the path of unity of the international community."

The text "does not go as far as we had hoped" but "the United Nations is back in the game," he said. "We are convinced that the U.N. will tomorrow be the focus for international action, due to its legitimacy, experience and capabilities."

Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq and gave the victorious allies far more power than do international conventions dealing with occupying forces. Many also wanted the council to have a significant role in monitoring reconstruction.

Negroponte insisted the United States would not accept any time limits on how long it could administer Iraq - a response to a French and German suggestion that it be for one year and not open-ended.

In a key concession, however, the United States agreed to let the Security Council "review the implementation of this resolution within 12 months of adoption and to consider further steps that might be necessary." The previous texts did not call for any U.N. review of the postwar Iraq operation.

Hinting at another concession to Russia and other council members, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said in a BBC interview late Wednesday that the coalition sees "a role for the U.N. inspectors … in confirming that Iraq is free of any threat in the area of weapons of mass destruction."

Sanctions imposed on Saddam's regime after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 technically cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare it free of weapons of mass destruction. But the United States has refused to allow them to return.

The resolution lifts economic sanctions without certification from U.N. inspectors, but it reaffirms "that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the mandates of the U.N. inspectors later. It gives no time frame.

The Bush administration said this week that nuclear inspectors would be allowed to jointly inspect the looted nuclear research center at Tuwaitha.

Nearly half the seven-page resolution deal with arrangements to phase out the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program over the next six months and transfer control of Iraq's oil revenue from the United Nations to the United States and Britain.

During the phase-out period, Annan will go through $10 billion worth of contracts approved and funded under the program and decide whether they are needed by the Iraqi people. Many of these contracts are with Russian companies.

The occupying powers, meanwhile, will take charge of a new Iraqi Development Fund, which will have an international advisory and monitoring board that de Villepin said would provide "transparency." The resolution grants immunity from lawsuits involving oil and natural gas until an internationally recognized government is in place and Iraq's $400 billion debt is restructured.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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