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UN moves closer to Iraq vote, inspectors meet Bush
( 2002-10-31 14:56 ) (7 )

The UN Security Council moved closer on Wednesday to agreeing on a new resolution for Iraqi arms inspections, with a top US official anticipating a vote next week and indicating Washington will give inspectors months to do their work.

As the United States and France made progress in resolving their differences over a US draft resolution, US President George W. Bush underscored Washington's demands for a rigorous investigation of Iraq's suspected weapons programs to the United Nations' chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix.

Iraq accused the United States of attempting to interfere with the inspectors' work, saying Bush's meeting with Blix showed Washington wanted to "impose their policy on Iraq and not follow the Security Council or the United Nations' rules."

The United States, which accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of amassing weapons of mass destruction, wants a tough new UN resolution to force Iraq to disarm or face possible military action, but France is wary about language that could lead to Washington taking unilateral military action.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "We are narrowing the differences" and that he expected the UN debate to wind up next week.

Powell again discussed the resolution by telephone with his counterparts, Dominique de Villepin of France, Jack Straw of Britain and Igor Ivanov of Russia, whose countries have veto power on the UN Security Council.

After six weeks of negotiations between US and French officials to send inspectors back into Iraq after a four-year hiatus, diplomats said both sides were studying complicated compromise language on Iraqi disarmament.

"I think the gap is extremely close but there is still back and forth between Washington and Paris," a key council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.


Washington's latest position is that it reserves the right to take action against Iraq without UN approval if the Security Council refuses to respond to a clear Iraqi violation of the UN disarmament requirements.

"The United States cannot find itself handcuffed to an extended debate in the presence of a new Iraqi violation and new Iraqi material breaches," Powell said.

France wants to make sure the US-drafted resolution has no hidden "triggers" the United States could use to launch a war against Iraq, overthrow Saddam and then claim the United Nations authorized its actions.

The US-drafted resolution, co-sponsored by Britain, warns Baghdad of "serious consequences," broadens the rights of UN inspectors in a search for chemical, biological, nuclear or ballistic weapons programs and declares any failure by Iraq to comply with terms of the new resolution "shall constitute a further material breach."

The council has avoided the phrase "material breach" in a resolution since 1993 because it could be interpreted under international law as a green light for military action.

Russian and French ambassadors told the council on Wednesday they had no objection to the words "material breach" providing the phrase was not used as a synonym for force.

Bush spoke to Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, about the importance of "protecting the peace and making certain that Saddam Hussein disarms," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Blix, who also met Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, has hinted the United States should modify certain provisions in its draft resolution. Blix said on Monday a 30-day deadline for an exhaustive list of weapons and related materials might be too short for Iraq to account for its large civilian chemical programs.

Powell said on Wednesday the inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 before a US-British bombing raid to punish Iraq for noncompliance with weapons searches imposed after the 1991 Gulf War, would be given time to do their work.

"It's certainly a matter of months before Dr. Blix and ... Mr. ElBaradei would come back and say we have made our determination whether or not they are continuing to pursue this kind of technology.

"We understand that it will take time and the president understands that means that we will have to wait for them to do their work and complete their report," added Powell. He warned, however, that any Iraqi refusal to cooperate was a "red line" that would require immediate Security Council consideration.


Powell said that when the inspectors reported back to the United Nations, the United States would take part in a Security Council debate on what to do next and could support a second resolution authorizing force.

But Rice, reiterated Washington's stance, saying, "If he's (Saddam) in material breach, which is the language that we used, there will have to be action taken."

Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh said Blix's meeting with Bush and Cheney was "a real intervention of the administration of the United States in Iraq."

Saleh said Blix, head of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, had already said he was satisfied with the Iraq-UN agreement brokered earlier this month under which Iraq invited arms inspectors to return unconditionally.

US officials said the administration was building cases against Saddam with an eye toward charging him with crimes against humanity in the event the Iraqi government is toppled.

"If Saddam Hussein's regime collapses and he survives, of course the world will want to bring him to justice," said a senior administration official.

US public support for military action against Iraq has declined this month, amid broad concerns over the possible consequences of war, according to a new poll. The Pew Research Center poll showed 55 percent backed military action to oust Saddam, against 62 percent in early October.

US and British warplanes bombed northern Iraq on Wednesday. Following a pattern that has become routine during years of Western air patrols, US officials said the jets attacked Iraqi anti-aircraft units after they were fired on, while an Iraqi official insisted the planes bombed civilian targets.



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