Russian, French proposals dilute U.S. language on Iraq

2 U.N. council members want world body to rule on any Hussein defiance

October 26, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a move intended to curb President Bush's freedom to attack Iraq, France and Russia circulated draft resolutions at the United Nations yesterday that diluted the threatening language in a U.S. proposal to disarm Iraq.

The new proposals omit the American accusation, backed by Britain, that Iraq is in "material breach" of U.N. Security Council mandates, which France and Russia saw as a hidden trigger for Bush to go to war.

While the French draft keeps the U.S. threat that Iraq faces "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, it rearranges the context to make clear that the Security Council should decide how to respond to Iraqi noncompliance.

The surprise moves by the two veto-wielding members of the Security Council immediately complicated American efforts to win support for the U.S. draft just when the Americans were beginning to think they had the necessary nine out of 15 council votes on their side.

In response, U.S. diplomats formally introduced their resolution in the council, ensuring that it would be voted on first, and declared that they wanted a vote next week. They also warned that attempts to water down the U.S. resolution could backfire.

"The real hidden trigger is not to have a resolution," a U.S. official said. President Bush has said repeatedly that if the United Nations fails to take effective steps to disarm Iraq, the United States will assemble a coalition of like-minded countries and launch a military effort to do the job.

But U.S. officials acknowledged yesterday that they might have to further change the resolution to ensure broad support, but Bush warned that there were limits to American flexibility.

"We won't accept a resolution which prevents us from doing exactly what I have told the American people is going to happen," Bush said. "That is, if the U.N. won't act and if Saddam won't disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."

Bush lobbied Chinese President Jiang Zemin to support the U.S. position during the Chinese leader's visit to the president's Texas ranch yesterday, but afterward gave no indication that he had won China's vote. China also holds a veto in the Security Council.

Bush will meet this weekend with President Vicente Fox of Mexico, which holds a seat on the council and has not declared whether it will vote to support the United States.

Bush will be in Mexico attending a summit of leaders of Pacific Rim countries, which include Singapore, another Security Council member.

Russia has been the most critical of the U.S. resolution, describing some of the tough new rules for inspections as impossible to implement and saying the text could be used to justify using force against Iraq. A Western diplomat described Russia as "difficult" in negotiations and said its proposal would significantly weaken the resolution.

France described its draft as a compromise aimed at ensuring that Iraq gets a tough message of U.N. resolve with broad support. But the language makes clear that before Iraq faces "consequences," the U.N. Security Council must meet and decide what to do.

France, which gains global prestige by virtue of its permanent seat on the council, fears that unilateral military action by the United States, without U.N. authority, would weaken the world body's power.

"If going to the U.N. is valuable, then it's valuable to have clear support from the Security Council for any military action," a French diplomat said yesterday.

But the time-consuming negotiations over the resolution will likely make the Bush administration wary of working through the Security Council in future stages of the confrontation with Iraq, said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If Iraq tries to obstruct the inspectors, the administration might merely pay lip service to consulting with other members of the council before launching military action, he said, noting, "We can consult with remarkable speed and terseness."

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