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Security Council Works on Iraq Compromise

U.N.: Proposal being hashed out would allow for a single resolution but not automatically allow the use of force if Hussein fails to comply.

October 10, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT and MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — After weeks of haggling with fellow Security Council members, the United States and Britain are moving toward acceptance of a single, compromise U.N. resolution that would call for "consequences" if Iraq defies international weapons inspectors but would not automatically authorize the use of military action, according to U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats involved in the negotiations.

President Bush called French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is scheduled to meet in Russia today with President Vladimir V. Putin, in an effort to press the two permanent members of the Security Council that have most strongly resisted signing on to military action against President Saddam Hussein's regime.

The tentative compromise, still being negotiated, would include an understanding that the United States would consult with its Security Council partners if Iraq obstructs the inspectors, although Washington would already feel free to act militarily based on its interpretation of both the new resolution and past resolutions, the sources said.

The compromise would break the impasse after a month of often contentious negotiations. And while it would fall short of what the Bush administration is seeking, it would provide a form of international "cover" if the Security Council does not come to agreement on a second resolution formally authorizing the use of force.

France has been proposing a two-step process: a resolution guiding new weapons inspections, with the Security Council forced to vote on a new measure if Iraq balks at complying. The goal of the compromise is to avoid a prolonged debate over a second resolution, which could bog down the pace of events should Iraq try to forestall any action before hot weather beginning in March makes a military campaign more difficult.

"We've basically had to decide between two options. It came down to making a choice between one faulty, imperfect resolution now that allows the U.S. some control over the situation--because we can argue this one resolution gives us enough to act--or a longer process which might meet all our needs more clearly but also creates a situation which we don't control," said a well-placed U.S. official who requested anonymity.

The two key words in the compromise--echoed Wednesday in statements by Bush as well as other pivotal players in the U.N. debate--are "consequences" and "automatically."

As now outlined, the U.S. and Britain would accept wording that includes "consequences" for Iraq for failing to cooperate with the weapons inspectors but would drop references to the right of U.N. member states to "automatically" have the right to use "all necessary means"--the euphemism for force.

The State Department said Wednesday that there is growing agreement on the idea of Iraq facing "appropriate consequences," although officials noted that the specific text is far from settled.

"There's some convergence on the idea that the council needs to express clearly in the resolution its determination to draw the appropriate conclusions and consequences should Iraq fail to comply," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

Russia, initially opposed to any resolution, showed flexibility Wednesday. Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said Moscow could accept a new resolution as long as it didn't stipulate the automatic right to use force against Iraq. Blair will probe the compromise with Putin today, according to U.N. envoys and U.S. officials.

France, which has been the most steadfast in opposing language on the automatic right to respond with force, is standing firm, Chirac made clear during a half-hour conversation with Bush on Wednesday, according to U.S. and French officials.

Bush countered that the stronger the resolution, the more likely the Iraq situation could be resolved peacefully, a National Security Council spokesman said. But the U.S. president said it was important that a new U.N. resolution include a statement of "consequences" should Hussein continue to violate the will of the world body.

And in the end, the two leaders appear to be trying to find common ground. In New York, however, maneuvering to have the last word continues.

France has presented the U.S. with a proposal demanding that Iraq fully disclose its weapons capabilities and even "non-prohibited items" such as drone aircraft that could be used for dispersing germ or chemical weapons. Yet the plan also calls for the U.N. to respect a controversial agreement allowing weapons inspectors into Hussein's sprawling "presidential compounds" only in the presence of several foreign diplomats, which Washington rejects.

The French paper also included Russian proposals on suspending tough economic sanctions if Iraq cooperates with inspectors--an issue that the United States does not even want on the table.

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte on Wednesday rejected the French proposals. "We're not interested," he said.

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