UNITED NATIONS — Declaring that "Iraq needs to pay" for obstructing arms inspectors, the United States pressed Monday for tougher U.N. sanctions against the government of Saddam Hussein.
But the joint U.S. and British effort to push new sanctions through the Security Council ran into strong opposition from a powerful minority on the council led by Russia and France. Diplomats met through the day, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telephoned French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in an effort to find a compromise, officials said. A Security Council vote on the issue is expected later this week.
The U.S. and Britain are seeking to punish the Iraqi government for its fitful cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors charged with eliminating Iraq's ability to wage biological, chemical and nuclear warfare. They have proposed augmenting 7-year-old economic sanctions on Baghdad with travel restrictions on Iraqi military and intelligence officials.
In an Oct. 16 report to the Security Council, Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the U.N. inspection team, said that while progress has been made in uncovering and destroying missiles and chemical weapons, Iraqi officials are still hiding biological weapons development. Iraq agreed to cooperate with U.N. inspectors after its defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but according to U.N. reports it has consistently failed to do so fully.
U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson told reporters that "Iraq needs to pay for violating the compliance provisions."
The U.S. and Britain have lined up seven other Security Council members behind the plan, giving them nine of 15 votes. But the others, including Russia, France and China, have balked.
Russian Ambassador Sergei V. Lavrov, who has emerged as spokesman for the skeptical countries, said the proposal is too broad and fails to give Iraq credit for those instances in which it has cooperated.
Russia and France are among the five permanent Security Council members with the power to veto any council action--the U.S., Britain and China are the others--but a veto of the U.S. measure is considered unlikely. Instead, Russia, France or China could abstain, thus expressing dissatisfaction without killing the proposal.
Support for sanctions has waned in many nations, and Russia and France are eager to resume business with Iraq, home to the world's second-largest reserves of oil, once the U.N. embargo on oil sales is completely lifted.
Iraqi Ambassador Nizar Hamdoun threatened to end all cooperation with the inspectors if new sanctions are adopted.