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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

U.S., Britain Still Plan a Resolution

But stiff opposition on the Security Council may force a compromise proposal that allows inspectors time to work with Iraq on disarming.

February 16, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Stung and surprised by the Security Council's stiff opposition to stopping inspections, the United States and Britain are rethinking their strategy for disarming Iraq but say they will still present a draft resolution to the council this week.

"I haven't seen any signs in Washington and London of less determination to see the complete disarmament of Iraq," British Ambassador to the U.N. Jeremy Greenstock said Saturday. Britain still plans to offer the council new proposals this week, he said, after members have digested the results of a European Union meeting on Iraq scheduled for Monday and after other U.N. members have aired their views in an open debate Tuesday.

But, Greenstock added, "final decisions have not been taken on what the next steps are."

At a special session of the Security Council on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell seemed irritated by a chorus of foreign ministers who said they weren't convinced that Iraq is an imminent threat that must be disarmed by force. Many of the speakers echoed the sentiment passionately presented by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin: that the U.N.'s ideal is to exhaust every peaceful option to neutralize Iraq before resorting to war.

Powell responded that the U.N. must not avoid a decision to use force -- "as distasteful as it may be, as reluctant as we may be." The council must confront the decision of what to do next in "days, not weeks," he told the 10 rotating members in a private meeting Friday afternoon.

"Some of the speeches set it up as a choice between war and peace," a council diplomat said Saturday. "It's not really about war or peace. It's about how we achieve the disarmament of Iraq if inspections aren't working. So the real 'What do we do now?' will really only begin next week and will only begin once there's something on the table."

Diplomats will be busy refining -- perhaps softening -- the proposals over the next few days.

Before the outpouring of antiwar emotion at Friday's meeting, the option most discussed in London and Washington was a new resolution that would find Iraq in "material breach" of Resolution 1441, which was passed unanimously by the Security Council in November and required Baghdad to declare any weapons of mass destruction and cooperate with inspectors to destroy them. The new resolution would call for the means to "restore international peace and security" -- namely military force.

A new version might also remove an explicit sanction of force, diplomats said Saturday. The possibility of including a deadline for Iraqi compliance with inspections or an ultimatum for President Saddam Hussein to step down or be ousted has still not been decided, they said.

But some members of the council said the U.S. and Britain are going to have to work much harder to win council consensus than offering a "you're with us or not" proposal for immediate military intervention. There has been talk of a compromise resolution, perhaps one that would give inspectors another month to work with Iraq on disarming before an invasion would be sanctioned.

"There's not a lot of enthusiasm to pre-endorse the use of force," said one ambassador who asked not to be identified. "If a resolution has 'material breach' in it authorizing military action, it will be very difficult to sell."

A compromise must be reached by the council's five deeply divided permanent members -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- said some of the 10 rotating ambassadors, because preserving the council's moral authority is even more important than disarming Iraq. Until that happens, Mexico, Chile, Angola, Pakistan and others said, they would abstain to prevent the U.S. and Britain from getting the nine votes needed for a resolution to pass.

"Mexico is hopeful that the inspections continue and that agreement can be reached among the countries which have been polarized," said Mexican Ambassador to the U.N. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser. "The objective is now much more difficult for the United States. You can strike alone, but you cannot create peace and rebuild a nation alone. You will need the help of the international community."

U.S. and British diplomats suggested Saturday that the U.S. miscalculated what the tone and effect of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report would be.

In an unannounced meeting between Blix and U.S. national security advisor Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday, Rice had strongly urged Blix to emphasize Iraq's lack of compliance, as he did in a previous report Jan. 27, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. But the attempt to influence Blix, proud of his impartiality, seemed to fail, if not backfire.

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