U.S. offers new U.N. resolution on Iraq

Free rein for inspectors, a step away from force

October 22, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States made headway yesterday in its push for "zero-tolerance" weapons inspections in Iraq. But it backed away from its demand that the United Nations authorize the immediate use of military force if Saddam Hussein continues his defiance.

After weeks of top-level international wrangling, the United States proposed a new U.N. resolution that would require Baghdad to give U.N. inspectors free rein to search for evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles that could threaten its Middle East neighbors.

U.S. officials said their decision to circulate a new draft reflected progress in easing French and Russian objections. It also indicated that a resolution might soon be adopted by the U.N. Security Council without significant changes.

The proposed resolution declares Iraq to be in "material breach" of U.N. mandates and warns of "serious consequences" if Hussein's defiance continues. But it drops the Bush administration's previous call for immediate military action. And it reworks sections of an earlier draft that France, Russia and top U.N. inspectors had found objectionable.

U.S. officials kept up the threat of war against Iraq yesterday, noting that Congress has authorized the president to use military force if the United Nations fails to disarm Iraq.

At the same time, the proposed resolution could allow U.N. inspectors and the Security Council to influence the U.S. decision of whether and when to invade Iraq. As a result, it could have the effect of postponing the use of American forces to topple Hussein's regime.

"This says the U.S. will continue to engage on the issue in the Security Council as long as the Security Council is engaging on the issue itself," said a Western diplomat at the United Nations.

A gradual softening

The proposal marked the latest turn in a gradual softening in the U.S. position toward Baghdad. Rather than insist that Hussein's regime must be ousted to remove a grave threat to the region and to the United States, President Bush and other U.S. officials now hold out the possibility of a change in Iraq's behavior without the necessity of a war to remove its rulers.

"We don't believe he's going to change," Bush said of Hussein after a meeting yesterday with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. "However, if he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly - that in itself would signal the regime has changed."

Bush also said: "We've tried diplomacy. We're trying it one more time. I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully. But if not, we have the will and the desire, as do other nations, to disarm Saddam."

The president spoke as the new resolution circulated among the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council. Those members, besides the United States, are Britain, China, France and Russia.

"Progress is being made," said Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman. "The talks are continuing, but it's moving forward and moving forward nicely.

"We will have zero tolerance for any violations of a U.N. resolution."

But a French diplomat cautioned, "It's a little too early to say we have come to a compromise."

The five permanent members of the Security Council are to meet again today.

The French approach

France had been the chief opponent of a resolution, drafted by the United States, that would have endorsed immediate military action if Iraq tried to block or interfere with inspections.

Instead, France sought two resolutions, with the first containing no threat of force. The second resolution, authorizing military action, would be drafted if Hussein defied U.N. inspectors. Britain backed the United States; Russia and China went along with France.

At a two-day Security Council forum last week, it became clear that numerous countries favored the French approach. France has not ruled out the possibility of joining the United States in military action in Iraq if its concerns are met.

The new American draft calls for U.N. weapons inspection agencies to report to the Security Council if Iraq obstructs inspectors or fails to come clean. At that point, the Security Council would meet immediately to "consider the situation and the need for compliance," according to a diplomat familiar with the draft.

U.S. officials have warned that Bush would not necessarily wait for a second resolution before launching military action. But the new American draft holds open the possibility that he would wait.

In another change, the United States has apparently dropped its demand that American or British officials be included in the inspection teams. The chief U.N. arms inspector, Hans Blix, had objected to this demand, seeking to preserve the international character of his teams and to avoid having inspectors report back to their own governments.

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