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Administration Mends Rift on an Iraq Resolution to Submit to U.N.

Policy: Officials say the Pentagon gave up its demand that the Security Council expedite a move on Baghdad. The result is called 'more balanced.'

September 25, 2002|MAGGIE FARLEY and TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

UNITED NATIONS — The Bush administration has resolved a bitter debate between the Pentagon and the State Department about how hard to push for immediate use of force in a U.N. resolution on Iraq that the U.S. may present to the Security Council as early as today, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

But the tough language Washington agreed on may still be at odds with the closest U.S. allies, signaling a difficult fight ahead.

The differences were resolved when the Pentagon reportedly backed away from its stance that the U.N. resolution should declare Iraq in material breach of previous U.N. conditions and therefore conclude that "no further evidence is needed" to trigger military action if Baghdad does not show compliance within days. At the State Department, Middle East specialists had argued that such strong terms had no chance of Security Council support.

As a result, a U.S. official here familiar with the internal debate said Tuesday, the administration has ended up with "a more balanced approach" that may be offered as early as today. The official requested anonymity.

"But our strategy is and has always been very tough on Iraq," this official stressed.

The Bush administration maintains that complete disarmament--preferably achieved by "regime change"--is its goal but has made clear that it has no faith in the U.N. weapons inspections program. The stance puts the U.S. on a collision course with the other 14 Security Council members, who want to give inspectors a chance before resorting to military intervention.

"Inspectors are one way to disarmament," said a U.S. official, "but it has proven not to be a good way. Disarmament is the key, and regime change is the only way to guarantee it." An upcoming meeting between the U.N. chief inspector and Iraqi authorities "isn't even on our radar," he said.

Of the four Security Council members who could veto a U.S. resolution, France and Russia have been the furthest from the U.S. position.

But Tuesday, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, while holding firm on the threat of force, appeared also to distance Britain from Washington's skepticism about the inspection process.

"We want disarmament to work through inspections," said Greenstock. "That is the key for the U.K. We are focused on disarmament. The resolution is going to be focused on disarmament. Whatever decision the U.S. makes on anything else is for the U.S. alone."

His comments suggested that the U.S. may face a tougher than expected fight to reach agreement on a resolution that it considers goes far enough.

The French are holding to their argument for two separate resolutions, one to empower the weapons inspectors and, if necessary, a later one to authorize use of force.

"We're not prepared to give a blank check for military action," said Ginette de Matha, a spokeswoman for the French U.N. mission.

Tuesday's developments came as President Bush kept up his tough rhetoric on Iraq, again declaring that the U.S. is prepared to leave the U.N. behind if necessary.

"We don't trust this man," Bush said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after a Cabinet meeting. "For 11 years, he's ignored the United Nations, and for 11 years he has stockpiled weapons.

"I again call for the United Nations to pass a strong resolution holding this man to account," he added, "and if they're unable to do so, the United States and our friends will act, because we believe in peace."

The president's comments followed Hussein's insistence last week that weapons inspectors must respect Iraqi sovereignty, a term the White House interpreted to mean that he was keeping "presidential sites" off-limits to monitors without Iraqi escorts.

The Security Council would like to pass a resolution strengthening the powers of the monitoring program before Monday, when chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is to meet with Iraqi officials in Vienna to discuss practical arrangements for his teams' work. U.S. delays in introducing the resolution might mean that Blix will begin talks with an outdated mandate.

Currently, the inspectors would not be allowed to make unaccompanied visits to the presidential sites--vast tracts of land surrounding presidential palaces that encompass hundreds of buildings where weapons materials or labs could be concealed. The U.S. insists a 1998 agreement between the Iraqis and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan setting the terms for inspecting those sites must be nullified with a new resolution.

Blix has outlined a 60-day period for inspectors to revisit old sites and reequip before starting official inspections. The teams are then expected to report to the council on Iraq's compliance every 120 days, unless they are blocked or find something.

The U.S. and Britain would like to compress this timeline to coordinate it with the best season for a potential military strike--December through March, when the weather is cool enough for soldiers to wear full protective gear against chemical or biological attacks.

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