UNITED NATIONS -- Putting aside bitter divisions over the Iraqi war, the U.N. Security Council gave the United States and Britain a mandate Thursday to govern Iraq and use its oil riches to rebuild the country. The resolution opened the door to a quick resumption of oil exports.
The 14-0 vote was a victory for the Bush administration, which won the backing of the chief opponents to the Iraq war -- France, Russia and Germany -- even though those nations felt the United Nations wound up with too little say in shaping Iraq's future.
Syria, the sole Arab country on the council, was absent during the vote. Syria's deputy U.N. ambassador Fayssal Mekdad told the council later Thursday that his government would have voted for the resolution if the vote had been delayed for a few hours as he requested. He said he wanted the record to reflect that the vote would have been unanimous.
The resolution immediately ends economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, opening the country to international trade and investment.
President Bush said the vote to lift sanctions "will help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country and work toward a more prosperous and secure future."
"The nations of the world have demonstrated their unity in their commitment to help the Iraqi people on their path toward a better future," he said from his ranch in Texas.
With passage of the resolution, the following steps are expected:
-- Iraq can resume oil exports, halted since before the war. Diplomats and industry experts predicted small shipments as early as next week, most likely of oil stored at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, where there are 8 million barrels of Iraqi oil in storage.
-- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a special representative to work with U.S. and British administrators on humanitarian aid, reconstruction and the creation of a new Iraqi government. Speculation for Annan's choice centered on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, who has Washington's support.
-- A newly created Development Fund for Iraq will start receiving proceeds from oil sales. The United States and Britain will be in charge of using the fund to rebuild the country. A new advisory body including the United Nations and international financial institutions will oversee the fund. It will get a $1 billion deposit, transferred from the U.N. oil-for-food account.
-- Governments must freeze Iraqi assets belonging to Saddam Hussein or his government and transfer them to the fund unless they are subject to legal claims.
-- The oil-for-food program, which required Iraqi oil revenues to be used primarily to buy humanitarian supplies, will be phased out over the next six months. Annan will review $10 billion worth of contracts existing under the program to decide whether they are still needed. These contracts, many of them with Russian companies, range from food and medicine to plumbing and sanitation equipment, oil spare parts, and trucks.
-- The resolution grants immunity from lawsuits involving future oil and natural gas sales until Dec. 31, 2007, to allow Iraq temporary relief from paying its estimated $400 billion debt and time to restructure the debt.
Left unclear is the issue of U.N. weapons inspections. Under the 1990 resolution imposing sanctions, U.N. inspectors had to certify that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction before sanctions could be lifted.
The resolution ends sanctions without that certification. But it reaffirms that "Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations" and says the council will discuss the inspectors' mandate later. It gives no time frame.
Many council members had complained the resolution set no end to the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq. Though Washington rejected any time limits, it made a key concession, agreeing to let the Security Council review implementation of the resolution after a year and "consider further steps."
After two weeks of negotiations, the final resolution also didn't give the United Nations the lead role in putting together a new Iraqi government, as Russia, France and Germany pushed for, or set a definite time limit for the occupation of Iraq to end.
Still, France, Russia and Germany -- which months ago blocked U.S. efforts to win U.N. approval for an invasion of Iraq -- said that at least the United Nations now has its foot in the door.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said the final version "is not perfect." But, he said Thursday, "it now provides a credible framework in which the international community can lend support to the Iraqi people."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said his government was "pleased at the results" of the negotiations.
Annan said the resolution was a "compromise" that "gives the international community a legal basis for its activity in Iraq."
The fight over whether to launch a war on Iraq had torn apart the Security Council. Now, faced with the reality of Saddam's ouster and U.S.-led troops controlling Iraq, all sides had wanted to avoid a repeat of the bitterness.
Only Syria's vote had remained a question mark. Ahead of the Thursday morning session, Syrian diplomats asked for a delay of a few hours so the top leadership in Damascus could decide its stance.
But "there was insistence to go on with the vote," said Syria's Mekdad.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the resolution as a sign that differences over the war could be left to history.
"This is a very important day in the United Nations because the international community has come back together," Blair said during a trip to Berlin.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the resolution was a "solid basis" for improving the living conditions of Iraqis.
In the two weeks since the United States introduced it, the text of the resolution saw more than 90 changes.
The U.N. political role in Iraq was strengthened somewhat. Instead of a U.N. "special coordinator" as initial drafts called for, Annan is appointing a "special representative" -- a higher status.
The representative will have "independent responsibility" and work "intensively" with the United States, Britain and the Iraqi people "to facilitate a process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq."