UNITED NATIONS — The United States pushed for a quick U.N. vote Wednesday on a revised Iraq resolution which threatens Saddam Hussein with “serious consequences,” while trying to ease concerns about setting off a new war.
But after eight weeks of intensive wrangling in the Security Council, and some major concessions by the Bush administration, France and Russia are still not satisfied.
French President Jacques Chirac called Russia’s Vladimir Putin Wednesday to discuss the new text and both agreed that “ambiguities” that could be used to trigger an attack on Iraq must be removed, Chirac’s spokeswoman said.
Nonetheless, both leaders saw “many improvements” in the new U.S. proposal, Colonna said.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States intends to put the draft resolution to a vote on Friday and “deserves consensus support.”
If the resolution is adopted on Friday, Iraq would have seven days to accept the terms. U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said an advance team would be in Baghdad within 10 days of its acceptance.
Inspectors would have 45 days to actually begin work, and would have to report to the council 60 days later on Iraq’s performance.
While the revised draft offers concessions to critics, including a greater role for the Security Council, it still meets the Bush administration’s key demands: toughening inspections, threatening Iraq with “serious consequences,” and freeing the United States to take military action against Iraq if inspectors say it isn’t complying.
At the same time, it gives Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “a final opportunity” to cooperate with weapons inspectors, holds out the possibility of lifting 12-year-old sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and reaffirms the country’s sovereignty.
Negroponte officially introduced the new text at a closed-door council meeting, where Blix and other members noted several problems. “We’ll see if we can find some way to accommodate the concern that other delegations expressed and the points that Dr. Blix made,” Negroponte said.
But the U.S. administration said that it was now in the endgame and that the new text offered Iraq an opportunity to avoid war.
The Security Council scheduled another round of negotiations on Thursday, and Singapore’s U.N. Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani said “it’s very clear that we are moving closer and closer to consensus.”
But whether the United States, and its co-sponsor Britain, can get all 15 council members on board remains to be seen.
For a resolution to be adopted, it needs at least nine “yes” votes and no veto by a permanent member — the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain.
No council member has mentioned a veto. Syria, Iraq’s Arab neighbor, remains opposed to any new resolution. Norway, Colombia and Bulgaria appear to be on board with the United States while Mexico and Singapore said their governments were studying the draft.
“We are not there yet,” said Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov.
He wouldn’t comment publicly on the new U.S. text, but diplomats said that inside the council, Lavrov said Moscow still saw several hidden triggers for the use of force. France had similar concerns, which Chirac and Putin discussed, diplomats said.
Negroponte sidestepped a question on whether the new draft could authorize military action.
Instead, he noted that President Bush believes “the use of force, war, would be a last resort. He wants to give the United Nations and the Security Council a chance.”
Negroponte said the new resolution “is the best way to achieve the disarmament of Iraq by peaceful means provided that Iraq complies fully with those obligations.”
Negotiations for a new Iraq resolution began after Bush’s Sept. 12 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, when he challenged world leaders to deal with Iraq’s failure over the last 11 years to comply with resolutions or stand aside as the United States acted.
Both France and Russia initially favored two resolutions, one giving Iraq a chance to cooperate, and a second authorizing military action only if Iraq failed to comply. But the United States insisted on a single resolution which would not “handcuff” the administration.
During negotiations, Washington modified language that would have authorized the use of force against Iraq and agreed to a two-stage process: inspectors would report any Iraq violations to the Security Council, which would then consider what to do. France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said “very important progress” had been made on this issue.
The latest draft softens one reference to Iraq being in “material breach” of its obligations to disarm under U.N. resolutions. Moscow and Paris believe the legal reference could be used by Washington to launch a war without Security Council authorization.
But there is a second reference to Iraq being in “further material breach” if it makes any “false statements or omissions” in the declaration of its weapons programs and fails to cooperate with inspections. That still bothers Russia and France, diplomats said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a second day on the phone discussing the text with his French, British and Russian counterparts.
A cornerstone of the U.S. proposal is a tough new inspections regime responsible for hunting for illicit weapons and reporting on any Iraqi failures to comply with its disarmament obligations.
It requires Iraq to provide inspectors with “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all” areas, including eight presidential sites, where advance notice was previously needed for inspections.
Inspectors could also decide whether to interview Iraqi scientists and government officials.