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The Big Push for U.N. Council's Support

Diplomacy: The U.S. and Britain seek compromise resolution on Iraq that's acceptable to France and Russia, which have balked at use of force.


UNITED NATIONS — Russia and France are still resisting a proposed U.S. resolution at the United Nations that would authorize military force against Iraq if it does not dismantle any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. But Washington and London continued to apply high-level pressure Friday, and diplomats said they are working hard on a compromise that will get the entire Security Council on board.

"We're working with our other friends and allies, with the French and the Russians, to try to achieve a resolution that everybody can support," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

To win over Russia--which along with France insists that the resolution must not automatically authorize the use of force--British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a lightning visit Friday to confer with President Vladimir V. Putin.

At the end of their get-together at a hunting lodge 75 miles north of Moscow, Putin told reporters that he is now open to "the possibility of reaching certain coordinated decisions"--including a new Security Council resolution.

While Russia's deputy foreign minister, Yuri Fedotov, complained that the proposed U.S. resolution has conditions that are "unfulfillable," Kremlin officials said Friday that Moscow is hoping for a "new document, yet to be drawn up," that would allow an agreement to be reached.

Pressure for agreement is building. President Bush telephoned French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell conferred with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, at least four times Thursday and Friday, as well as with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. The White House will dispatch other senior envoys to Europe next week for what are expected to be intensified talks.

"No one has held anyone's feet to the fire yet," said a European diplomat close to the talks. "A deal will be done. Nobody is saying no."

France, Russia, the U.S., Britain and China wield veto power on the Security Council. In an attempt to slow the push toward war, France has proposed a two-step process: First, the Security Council would adopt one resolution strengthening the weapons inspection process. If Iraq blocks inspectors, the council would then vote on taking further action.

The U.S. is offering to tone down the tough language in its proposed resolution in hopes of securing a single resolution that doesn't restrain Washington and its allies from attacking Iraq if inspections fail, diplomats close to the negotiations say.

The leading compromise scenario, senior U.S. and U.N. officials say, is that the U.S. would drop from its proposed resolution the threat to use "all necessary means"--which implies military force--if inspections fail. Instead, the measure would call simply for "consequences," a term more open to interpretation. The resolution will likely require the Security Council to acknowledge that Iraq is already in "material breach" of past resolutions and that a further breach will trigger the "consequences."

The Security Council has, in fact, already found Iraq in material breach of a 1991 resolution that ended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and demanded Baghdad's disarmament.

Citing that finding, the U.S. and Britain launched a bombing raid on Iraq in December 1998 to punish Baghdad for not cooperating with weapons inspectors. The Western allies may use that as a basis for a new attack on Iraq, even though other Security Council members prefer new debate.

"That argument can be regarded as all that's needed," said Robert Rosenstock, former legal advisor to the U.S. mission to the U.N., who helped craft the 1991 resolution.

While the U.S. may claim that legal basis exists for military action, it is still crucial to build political support for an attack, Rosenstock said. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Canada have said they will offer military help only if the U.N. approves the use of force. And having the world body's backing for an attack would ensure its help in the rebuilding of the country after any such action.

And so the delicate diplomacy continues. In exchange for one resolution instead of the two-step process proposed by France, the U.S. might agree to return to the council to try winning authorization for force if Iraq balks. But Washington would reserve the right to act based on earlier resolutions. This would give the French and others the cover they need to say they did not support use of force, while granting the U.S. and Britain legal and tacit political support for action.

"The French want the U.S. to at least go back for a second meeting of the council," a diplomat on the council said. "It may not have to be a second resolution."

The Bush administration has not ruled out two separate resolutions. But officials are concerned about becoming embroiled in a second debate that could delay a strike. After March, the region's hot weather would make it difficult for soldiers to wear heavy protective gear and to distribute water.

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