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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Backs U.N. Aid to Iraq On Environment Claims

GENEVA, Switzerland - Russia has proposed that the United Nations provide technical assistance to Iraq to prepare its defence against $46 billion claims of environmental damage from the Gulf War, diplomatic and U.N. sources said Thursday.

But the United States and several other member countries of the U.N. Compensation Commission's Governing Council were unable to agree to Moscow's proposal, they added.

The UNCC's Governing Council, composed of the same 15 member states as the Security Council, has tentatively agreed to take up the politically charged issue again around Apr. 2, according to a range of sources at the closed-door meeting in Geneva.

The body, set to end three-day talks later in the day, was expected to approve a number of claims filed by corporations and governments against Iraq for damages due to its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and seven-month occupation of the emirate.

This year, Iraq will face about $46 billion in environmental claims filed by six countries in the region -- Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey -- U.N. sources say.

"Russia proposed that a significant amount of money be made available. There was a good deal of support in the Council for it but the Americans were adamant that they were not willing, and the issue will be carried over," a U.N. source told Reuters.

A diplomatic source added: "The Russians have been aggressively pushing for technical assistance to Iraq.

"They say it is unfair to go forward with substantive claims unless Iraq has a chance to get technical or scientific assistance," he added. "The French have the same view that the Iraqis are entitled."

The Bush administration, which took office barely two months ago and launched joint air strikes with Britain in February on military installations outside Baghdad, is said to be still grappling with the issue of technical assistance to Iraq.

A U.S. diplomatic source told Reuters: "We have concerns on the issue and are looking for an acceptable resolution."

A Western diplomat said: "We are confident that we can reach some kind of agreement and hopefully some kind of mechanism.

"There are a number of different views, but there is scope for agreement," he added.

The Russian delegation has not floated a specific amount of funds to be channelled to Iraq, nor where they should come from, according to the sources.

But some diplomats speculated that the logical source of funds would be the U.N. sanctions committee on Iraq. The New York-based body is made up of all 15 Security Council members. "The idea is to be put a lot of proposals on the exact mechanism on the table between now and the meeting in April," said one Western diplomat.

The UNCC, set up by the Security Council in 1991, has received and processed 2.6 million claims worth more than $300 billion.

Compensation amounting to more than $32 billion has been awarded, but only $11 billion has actually been paid out so far.

The UNCC, which gets 25 percent of the proceeds from the U.N. oil-for-food deal with Iraq, currently receives revenues averaging about $400 million per month.