U.N. resists deadline for Iraq

Revised resolution fails to break Security Council opposition to U.S.-led war

Draft sets March 17 to disarm

Tensions running high among U.S., inspectors and European powers

March 08, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A testy United Nations Security Council debate failed yesterday to break the resistance of most members to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite a new proposal backed by the United States that would give Iraq until March 17 to disarm.

France, Russia and China remained firm in opposing war and appeared to pick up support from Pakistan, a council member whose envoy said Iraq posed no imminent threat and declared, "The cost of delay in our view will be much less than the cost of war."

The council is expected to vote next week on the U.S.-backed resolution, which would authorize war if Iraq failed to meet the deadline. With the resolution's prospects looking dim, the United States is intensifying its efforts to secure enough votes and head off a veto.

Demands by several council members for more time before any war followed a mixed assessment of Iraq's cooperation from Hans Blix, one of the chief U.N. weapons inspectors, and the most upbeat picture yet from Mohammed ElBaradei, the U.N. official who monitors Iraq's nuclear program.

Casting new doubt on American intelligence reports, ElBaradei said he had failed to find even a "plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."

The continued opposition to war and the inspectors' reports of some progress increased the difficulty for the United States in convincing council members that Saddam Hussein is deceiving and defying the United Nations and that he poses an urgent threat that can be met only by war.

"There is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what Iraq is doing," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said after the session. "There are some people, in my judgment, who don't want to see the facts clearly."

To try to gain council support for military action, the United States, Britain and Spain revised their two-week-old resolution authorizing war. They altered it to set a deadline - a week from Monday - for the council to conclude that Iraq is fully disarming. The previous resolution set no deadline, and it would have opened the way for military action immediately after its adoption.

In agreeing to endorse a deadline for the first time, a senior American official said, the Bush administration had little expectation that Hussein would comply but wanted to show that "we're trying to go the last mile" to try to avoid war. The official did not say when the United States would put the resolution to a vote, though Security Council diplomats said it could be as early as Tuesday.

If by March 17 the council is unable to conclude that Iraq had shown "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation," then Baghdad would have missed its "final opportunity," according to the new draft resolution. This would open the way for "serious consequences" - diplomatic code for war.

The resolution is designed to put opponents of war in a bind: Its adoption would give opponents at least some of the additional days they're calling for. But a rejection would mean that war could start at any time. President Bush has said that if the council was unable to disarm Iraq, he would lead a military coalition to do so.

More bargaining ahead

In the meantime, the new proposal opens the way for intensified bargaining among world leaders over the next several days. More amendments could be offered as council members try to halt or slow Bush's seemingly inexorable march toward war.

Signaling even a bit more willingness to compromise, the senior administration official suggested that the March 17 deadline might be flexible but insisted, "The room for maneuver is not very great."

The official told reporters that the deadline would close the "diplomatic window" but indicated that even then, Hussein could "do everybody a favor" and go into exile in advance of an attack. Several Arab nations are trying to persuade the Iraqi dictator to simply leave the country, though most doubt he will.

Bush said Thursday night that he would insist that the new resolution be put to a Security Council vote even if the United States fails to secure the votes for adoption. Yesterday's council debate showed that the resolution's defeat is a very real possibility. And even if the United States gains enough votes for passage, the resolution faces the possibility of a veto by France, China and Russia.

France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, indicated that the new U.S.-backed proposal would not reverse France's staunch resistance to military action.

"We will not accept a resolution that will lead to war," de Villepin said during the debate. He proposed a meeting of heads of state and government regarding Iraq, an idea rejected by Powell.

The council debate revealed the suspicion and anger that have been steadily growing, not only between the United States and its longtime allies France and Germany, but also among European powers and between the United States and the U.N. weapons inspectors.

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