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US refines resolution on Iraq as hopes rise
( 2002-11-05 15:26 ) (7 )

Bush administration officials worked today in Washington to put the finishing touches on a Security Council resolution for tough weapons inspections in Iraq, and major Council nations said they were optimistic that the measure would be adopted soon and with broad support.

In a radio interview in Mexico City this morning, the country's foreign minister, Jorge G. Casta?eda, said that after intensive negotiations this weekend, "the impression we have is that there already is an agreement, and it is a very good agreement for the world, for the United Nations and for Mexico."

President Bush called President Vicente Fox this morning to seek his support, administration officials said. Mr. Casta?eda said he spoke by telephone over the weekend with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw; the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin; and the Russian foreign minister, Igor S. Ivanov.

Based on those conversations, Mr. Casta?eda said in an interview with Radio Red, he expected that the new draft would "reflect an important number of changes introduced by France, by Russia, by Mexico." He predicted that the Security Council would adopt it with 14 votes in favor and Syria abstaining.

American and British officials cautioned that Mr. Casta?eda's comments seemed premature. In Washington, administration officials met today to consider suggestions they have received since last week from many Council nations, and from Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, officials there said.

In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein softened his tone about the resolution, saying Iraq would "take it into consideration" as long as it "respects the United Nations Charter and international law."

British diplomats said late today that they expected to comment on the new language before the revised draft was distributed to other Council nations. Britain is co-sponsoring the resolution. French diplomats said they would not comment because they had not seen the most recent version, which they were told had not yet been approved by Mr. Bush.

But American and British diplomats said they hoped to present the revised draft by Wednesday.

"We are reaching the point of closure," Prime Minister Tony Blair said today.

The last issue left to resolve was the hardest one: the difference between the United States and Britain, on one side, and France and Russia on the other, over when military force against Iraq could be authorized. During seven weeks of negotiations, France and Russia coined a new term for their objections, saying they did not want "automaticity" for the United States to go to war. They insisted on a second vote in the Council to approve military action if Iraq failed to comply with the arms inspections.

China, the fifth permanent veto-bearing member of the Council, leaned toward France's view but stayed in the background.

Mr. Castareda said the new draft would include a "carrot" proposed by Mexico, making it clear that Iraq could avoid war and further economic sanctions if it disarmed.

"The carrot is not quite as explicit as we had wanted," he said, "but it includes the notion of what happens if Iraq does comply." He said Mexico agreed that the measure should threaten "serious consequences" if Mr. Hussein blocked inspections.

Mexico was "leaving behind any impression of frictions with the United States," Mr. Casta?eda said. Mexico is one of 10 nonpermanent members in the current Council, with no veto power. But for weeks, Mr. Fox resisted Mr. Bush's lobbying efforts, tipping his support toward France in order to press the United States to give a little.

The Russian ambassador at UN, Sergey Lavrov, said today that Russia broadly favored tougher inspections.

"We repeatedly said that on substance of a new, strengthened expanded inspections regime, we won't see any differences in the Council," Mr. Lavrov said. He said Russia suggested language changes to describe the inspections "professionally and in a nonaggressive way."



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