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U.S., Britain in Step on Iraq Resolution

Diplomacy: Security Council support is sought for a tough disarmament measure. Bush seeks bipartisan backing in Congress.

September 27, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT and JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The United States has reached general agreement with Britain on a strongly worded U.N. resolution on Iraq and launched a diplomatic offensive to win support from Russia, France and China, the three other members of the Security Council with veto power, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Thursday.

The current draft of the resolution would allow United Nations members to use "all necessary means" to deal with the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if his country refuses to meet U.N. demands that it eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

Senior U.S. and British diplomats left Thursday for France and Russia to try to win the support of those nations, which have expressed strong reservations about the use of force if Iraq does not give up any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles it might possess.

Powell acknowledged that the United States is still "a long way" from getting a final agreement because of strong views within the Security Council.

Meanwhile, the White House continued to seek bipartisan backing for congressional authorization to use force against Iraq. Just one day after bickering between President Bush and Senate Democrats seemed destined to slow action on the administration's request, congressional leaders circulated a possible compromise with changes to address lawmakers' concern that Bush's proposal was too broad and open-ended. Bush sounded more conciliatory in discussing Congress' action on the issue.

The proposed U.N. resolution includes three key parts. It holds Iraq in "material breach" for violations of several past U.N. resolutions, a phrase pivotal to the potential use of force. On a tight timetable, it calls on Iraq to fully and immediately comply with all 16 past U.N. resolutions, particularly its pledge to surrender any weapons of mass destruction.

Most important, it lays out the consequences of Iraq's failure to comply, including the right of member states to take appropriate action in response--a euphemism for the use of force. This is the most controversial aspect of the draft, which faces opposition from France, the Arab world and many of the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council.

Although the timing is not specified in the current draft, there is a general understanding that U.N. inspectors should be allowed to return within two weeks and that Iraq should cede any of its deadliest weapons within six months, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

In the tough diplomatic bargaining that lies ahead, the U.S. feels strongly that the resolution must include "hard consequences" for Iraq if it does not comply with all U.N. resolutions, Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"We must keep the pressure on," he said. "The United States has made it clear to our Security Council colleagues that we will not fall for this ploy. This is the time to apply more pressure, not to relent."

But he noted ongoing differences within the Security Council, with some nations arguing that there is no need for a new resolution. "We are listening to other points of view and we are working to reach agreement," he said. "It is a difficult debate. There are strong views, one way or the other."

Powell, who is largely responsible for persuading the Bush administration to detour to the United Nations on the road to Baghdad, said having no new authority from the world body to pressure Hussein would be "a recipe for failure."

U.N. diplomats had hoped that a final draft could be formally introduced in the Security Council on or before Monday, when chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to meet Iraqi representatives in Vienna. But the resolution might not be finished before midweek, U.N. envoys said Thursday.

The U.S. is hoping to avoid having to go back to the United Nations if Iraq fails to comply with the world body's demands. France, with strong backing from several member states, is still pressing for a two-step process that would separate the possible use of force from the current resolution. Instead, a second resolution would have to be passed if and when Iraq balks.

France is lobbying hard for its position. After talks in Paris on Thursday, French President Jacques Chirac and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji said their nations remain committed to deferring the issue of force until Iraq balks.

Chirac also conferred Thursday by telephone with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Afterward, French spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said, "France and Russia have the same approach to the Iraqi issue."

But ceding to pressure from hawks inside the Bush administration, Washington may be willing to scrap language on the consequences for Iraq in the current resolution rather than go through another intense round of even more complex and controversial diplomacy down the road to win backing for the use of force, U.S. officials said Thursday.

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