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U.N. Gives Iraq 'Final' Chance/ Resolution Warns Regime of 'Serious Consequences' if It Fails to Disarm

Unanimous vote is seen as endorsement of U.S. effort to work through the world body. Bush emphasizes America's freedom to act alone.

November 09, 2002|Maggie Farley and Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council voted unanimously Friday to give Iraq "a final opportunity" to disarm or face "serious consequences," bolstering the role of the United Nations in the world and rewarding the United States' willingness to engage it.

The show of international unity sent a strong message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that he is without allies if he continues to defy the United Nations, ambassadors said. And the consensus was hailed as a striking endorsement of the U.S. decision to work through the council on a crucial issue instead of going around it.

"To the government of Iraq, our message is simple," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said after the vote. "Noncompliance is no longer an option. To our colleagues on the council, our message is one of partnership."

But in the White House Rose Garden moments after the vote, President Bush emphasized Washington's freedom to act alone if necessary, threatening Iraq with "the severest consequences" if it fails to comply with the new resolution.

The 15-0 result was a surprise after nearly two months of intense negotiations. The day before the vote, a last-minute compromise on language to ensure that the U.S. would not use the resolution as a pretext for military force clinched the support of France, China, Mexico and Ireland.

But Russia's vote wasn't confirmed until an early-morning phone call Friday from Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and Negroponte only learned the Syrian diplomat's intentions as they walked into the Security Council chamber together for the vote on U.N. Resolution 1441.

Iraq now has seven days to confirm its compliance with the resolution, and 23 more days to come up with a full declaration of any weapons of mass destruction and missiles used to deliver them. The Security Council will grant Baghdad a little more time to catalog "dual-use" material used in its petrochemical industry.

The resolution states that weapons inspectors will begin their work within 45 days and make their first report to the council 60 days after they begin -- although they may report infractions at any time. Chief inspector Hans Blix said he and an advance team would be in Baghdad on Nov. 18.

Patient and painstaking diplomacy, bolstered by a dose of "creative ambiguity," allowed all sides to claim victory Friday. The resolution links but doesn't chain Washington to the Security Council, reflecting France's insistence that any determination that Iraq has violated its obligations be made by the council, not the U.S. alone. But it doesn't force the U.S. to wait for a second Security Council resolution before launching military action against Iraq.

"The outcome of the current crisis is already determined. The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq will occur. They only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how," Bush said in his Rose Garden comments. "The United States prefers that Iraq meets its obligations voluntarily, yet we are prepared for the alternative. In either case, the just demands of the world will be met."

Bush also had praise for the U.N. "Members of the council acted with courage and took a principled stand," he said. "The United Nations has shown the kind of international leadership promised by its charter and required by our times."

But the same ambiguity that allowed a compromise also foreshadows trouble to come. In the same breath they lauded the council's consensus, several ambassadors noted their different interpretations of the resolution.

Addressing the central disagreement of whether the document simply establishes the legal groundwork for a U.S.-led war or is the best means to avoid it, Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser insisted, "The use of force is subject to the prior and explicit authorization of the Security Council."

Three of the council's permanent members -- France, China and Russia -- felt compelled to issue a joint declaration after the vote, putting on record their understanding of the resolution and the U.S. and British pledges that it does not contain provisions for the automatic use of force.

The three also took issue with the U.S assertion that any council member can judge that Iraq has violated the resolution and ask the council to consider the consequences. They insist that only the weapons inspectors have the authority to report a possible breach.

Initial Iraqi reaction came from Ambassador Mohammed Douri, who spoke immediately after the vote. "Iraq will certainly study the resolution and decide whether we can accept it or not," he said. During the negotiations, he and other Iraqi officials repeatedly characterized the resolution as a "a blueprint for war."

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