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Russia backs lifting sanctions

Ivanov: "Overwhelming majority of countries" support partial lifting of sanctions

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The Russian government said Thursday it was willing to support France's proposal to partially suspend U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

A senior U.S. diplomat called it a "positive move," but added that the Russians, "like the French, continue to attach conditions" to the full lifting of sanctions.

The United States, he said, believes there "is a case now with the changed conditions for proceeding directly to lift, rather than just suspend" the sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow would back a temporary suspension of sanctions "on goods that may be used for humanitarian problems in Iraq."

"An overwhelming majority of countries share this approach, therefore it is necessary now to make appropriate decisions," he said.

France, which was the first to propose the idea, has also suggested lifting sanctions on investment and trade as well but Russia said it remained opposed to any automatic suspension of sanctions.

The Russian government maintains the U.N. Security Council is the only agency that can lift the sanctions since it originally imposed them. However, Russia first wants international inspectors to return to Iraq to certify whether the country is free of weapons of mass destruction.

"As for the full lifting of the sanctions, this issue must be resolved on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolutions that were adopted earlier," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

"Therefore, we are not talking about any vetoes now but only about measures that should be taken to overcome the difficult humanitarian situation Iraq is facing as a result of the war."

On Tuesday, France's ambassador called to the United Nations to "immediately suspend the civilian sanctions" against Iraq.

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, speaking to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council chamber, also recommended a gradual "phasing out" of the seven-year-old oil-for-food program, but on Thursday it was extended until June 3.

The oil-for-food program allows the Iraqi government to use oil revenues from a U.N. escrow account to purchase humanitarian goods.

"Sixty percent of the Iraqi people depend on this program ... and without transition it would be destabilizing and would have humanitarian consequences," Sabliere said.

"The program should be adjusted to take into account realities but there should be a phasing out."

Responding to the French proposal, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte said: "Our view is that in light of the dramatically changed circumstances in Iraq that sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible. So we now need to work with France and other countries to see how best that can be achieved and how quickly."

However, Negroponte ruled out any immediate role for U.N. inspectors, saying the U.S. coalition "had assumed responsibility for the disarming of Iraq." Asked about the possibility of UNMOVIC regaining responsibility for inspections, he said, "for the time being and for the foreseeable future, we visualize that as being a coalition activity."

France's proposal to lift sanctions came as the country faced renewed criticism by the United States for opposing the Iraq war.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States had to review its relationship with France following its promise to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war against Iraq.

"It's over and we have to take a look at the relationship. We have to look at all aspects of our relationship with France in light of this," Powell said during an interview on America's PBS television network.

Asked if there were consequences for standing up to the United States, Powell replied "yes," but did not elaborate.

Responding to Powell's comments, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Wednesday that France would continue to follow its principles in dealing with issues such as Iraq. (Full story)

-- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report

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