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British Propose Tests for Iraq

With the U.N. Security Council still deeply split on disarming Baghdad, London's envoy says 'we are busting a gut' to reach a compromise.

March 12, 2003|Maggie Farley and Paul Richter | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — Britain drove efforts Tuesday to craft a compromise U.N. Security Council resolution that would give Saddam Hussein a list of tests to prove Iraq's commitment to disarmament as U.S. patience with diplomacy dwindled.

Deep divisions remain in the 15-member council on how much more time Iraq should get, with France and Russia insisting that they will veto any proposal that gives a green light to war.

"We are busting a gut to see if we can get greater consensus in the council," said British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who added that he expects a vote by Friday. "We are going to go on talking until we find a way forward through the Security Council together."

Desperate for U.N. backing before joining an attack on Iraq, British officials have quietly pushed aside the current draft that demands that Hussein fully disarm by Monday or face invasion. British negotiators have indicated that they could stretch the proposed deadline but warned against pushing the issue beyond month's end.

The United States is willing to accept moving the deadline past Monday but not by much.

Bolstered by polls that show growing public acceptance of an attack on Iraq even without U.N. backing, Washington is losing patience with the U.N. process. "There's a little room for a little more diplomacy, but not much time," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, shooting down a compromise proposal suggesting a 30-day or 45-day deadline extension as a "non-starter."

In an attempt to give Britain some breathing room, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested that America could take military action against Iraq not only without the United Nations' blessing, but also without Britain's help.

"To the extent that they [the British] are able to participate, that would obviously be welcomed," Rumsfeld said in response to a reporter's question. "To the extent they're not, there are workarounds, and they would not be involved, at least in [the military] phase of it."

Rumsfeld's comments were intended to give the British maneuverability, U.S. officials said. But surprised British officials quickly reaffirmed that more than 40,000 troops Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged would accompany U.S. forces into battle. Rumsfeld issued a statement later saying he did not doubt Britain's commitment to seeing Iraq disarmed.

Britain has proposed giving Hussein 10 days to prove that Iraq has taken a "strategic decision" to disarm by fulfilling a set of tests or benchmarks. If Iraq makes that decision, a second phase would begin with more time to verify Baghdad's full disarmament.

"There is a two-stage process," Greenstock said. "One is to be convinced that Iraq is cooperating, the other is to disarm Iraq completely."

Ten days is not enough time, say the Security Council's "middle ground" countries that hold swing votes and are asking for a 45-day window. Canada, a non-council member which has been playing the role of mediator, proposed an alternative of three weeks.

A New York Times/CBS poll found that while 52% of Americans favor giving inspections more time, 55% said they would support military action without U.N. support. The poll was taken of 1,010 adults March 7-9. The margin of error was 3%.

But for at least a few more days, the U.S. and Britain will continue to vie for council support against France, Russia and China, who say force is not yet necessary to neutralize Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac said Monday that France would veto the resolution "whatever the circumstances," while Russia has said it would veto the proposed resolution now on the table, leaving room for potential compromise. Of the 10 nonpermanent council members, Spain, Bulgaria and Cameroon have sided with the U.S., and Germany and Syria with the French, while the rest say they are still seeking middle ground.

In negotiations that one diplomat described as "gradual, painful and unproductive," consensus was beginning to emerge around a handful of tests for Iraq to meet -- by Monday, if the U.S. has its way, or up to six weeks later if other countries get theirs. At the top of the list would be demands for interviews outside Iraq with scientists associated with the country's past weapons programs. Such interviews are seen as the best potential source of information about Iraq's current capabilities.

Other tasks would measure Iraq's cooperation and actual disarmament, calling on authorities to destroy stocks of deadly VX nerve gas and anthrax or to credibly account for their past destruction. Iraq might also have to complete destruction of Al-Samoud 2 missiles that are deemed by the United Nations as exceeding a 93-mile limit and to prove that a newly discovered fleet of drones does not surpass U.N. restrictions and cannot deliver biological or chemical weapons, as inspectors suspect.

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