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UNITED NATIONS (April 22) - In a surprise move, France on Tuesday proposed immediately suspending U.N. sanctions targeting Iraq civilians, an important step toward the U.S. goal of ending trade embargoes that have crippled the country's economy.

President Bush called last week for sanctions to be lifted quickly, so Iraq's oil revenue can be used to finance reconstruction.

France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, made the proposal at a Security Council meeting where members heard a briefing by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and for the first time exchanged views on potentially divisive post-war issues.

The Security Council imposed sanctions after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Under council resolutions, sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

France was in the forefront of opposition to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, along with Russia, Germany and China. But de La Sabliere said before the meeting that Security Council ''must take into account the new realities on the ground.''

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov had said his country is ''not at all opposed to the lifting of sanctions.'' But he said Russia wants U.N. inspectors to certify that Iraq has been disarmed of all weapons of mass destruction, as required under U.N. resolutions.

He was not immediately available for comment on the French proposal.

The Security Council must wrestle not only with Iraq's disarmament but also the U.N. role in Iraq, control of Iraq's oil revenue and lucrative reconstruction contracts.

At another closed-door council meeting later Tuesday, the council was to hear from Benon Sevan, head of the U.N. oil-for-food program, which had been providing food for 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people.
 
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