NEW YORK - The United States acknowledged for the first time yesterday that Iraq had made progress in complying with U.N.-mandated disarmament efforts but said sanctions against Baghdad would not be lifted soon.
Despite calls by Russia and others to scale back wide-ranging inspections of Iraqi nuclear facilities, the 15-member Security Council agreed late yesterday to maintain international embargoes against Baghdad.
Council President Hisashi Owada of Japan told reporters "there was no consensus" to modify the sanctions. No vote was taken.
The decision came after a personal appeal by Iraq's foreign minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, to end the sanctions. It was the first time a senior Iraqi official of Cabinet rank had appeared before the entire council to make such an appeal.
In Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, a senior adviser to Saddam, said Iraq's future relations with the United Nations would depend on what action the council took. He refused to elaborate.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said Washington "acknowledges progress in the areas of access to presidential and sensitive sites, and there appears to be movement in the nuclear file."
"But it is premature to totally close that file," he said.
The United States had come 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.
While there is no serious attempt to lift the international embargo - imposed to force Baghdad to comply with council resolutions to give up its weapons of mass destruction - some nations are eager to see the process hurried along. …