Game-Playing at the U.N.

It's time for the U.N. to lift sanctions on Iraq and open its books on the oil-for-food program. It is obvious to any reasonable person that the end of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship should end the reason for the sanctions. France says it is willing to suspend -- not lift -- sanctions, but only if the U.S. agrees to let U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix back into Iraq. Paris, of course, knows that Washington will not agree. The result will be a delay in letting Iraq sell its own oil to feed its people. This is a morally reprehensible position.

The position of France is particularly galling because in the long debate during the runup to war, it took a high moral stance against the U.S. There were whispers out of Paris that the U.S. was interested only in Iraq's oil. There were charges that U.S. intervention without a second U.N. resolution would be illegitimate and unlawful. Now France is accusing the U.S. of giving postwar reconstruction contracts only to American companies. That may be true in the first round of bidding, but French companies were major beneficiaries of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program since it was started in 1996 ($3.7 billion), along with Russia ($7.3 billion) and China ($3 billion). U.S. companies received few, if any, contracts during those years.

While the U.N. ran the program and collected the billions from oil sales, it left Saddam Hussein to decide where to spend the money. He parceled it out to those countries that favored loosening the sanctions. The U.N. itself received 2.2% of all the proceeds from oil sold under the program -- over $1 billion.

It's time to end this hypocrisy. France and Russia should stop negotiating with the U.S. to protect their commercial interests and vote immediately to lift sanctions on Iraq. And the U.N. should open its oil-for-food books to see who profited during the six years of sanctions. The U.N. is in serious danger of losing its credibility. The organization needs to reform itself if it wants to play a constructive role on the world scene.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.