UNITED NATIONS—The United States presented a new resolution on disarming Iraq on Wednesday that calls for stringent inspections, sets tight deadlines and warns of serious consequences if Iraq fails to comply.
The new resolution offers Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply with past U.N. resolutions and give up its weapons of mass destruction. It also holds out a carrot to Iraq, suggesting that the council wants to bring the disarmament process to "full and verified completion," meaning an end of more than a decade of heavy sanctions.
The new version also accepts France's view that the Security Council should meet again immediately if weapons inspectors say Iraq interferes with their work or does not meet all its obligations. The 15-nation Security Council could then decide whether to authorize military action.
But U.S. and British officials have said the resolution would not prevent them from deciding to go to war against Iraq on their own.
The latest U.S. draft, cosponsored by Britain, declares that Iraq "has been and remains in material breach" of its obligations to disarm as outlined in previous U.N. resolutions. "Material breach" is diplomatic code authorizing military force, and the use of those words in an earlier draft drew sharp criticism from council members France, Russia and China.
Council members discussed the new draft privately on Wednesday and planned further consultations on Thursday, when changes could be made, and a vote on Friday.
In order to pass the council, a resolution must get nine yes votes, and it must not be vetoed by any of the five permanent council members—the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.
France gave its initial OK to the draft in discussions with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday. Diplomats were waiting to see if Paris now introduces any last-minute objections.
France, wary of U.S. power, wants to ensure any resolution does not give Washington automatic backing for overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that "nothing in this resolution handcuffs" President Bush. But Bush, he added, "has committed to further consultations" if Iraq violates the resolution.
French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte praised the resolution's two-stage approach, but withheld explicit support, noting that the French government was reviewing the draft.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov reiterated his country's position that military action against Iraq should not be automatic if Baghdad does not comply, and the demands on Iraq should not be impossible to meet. He would not elaborate on Russia's views about the latest draft. "We are not there yet . . . It's a work in progress," he said.
Powell predicted that the resolution would get what he called "broad support" from the Security Council.
"There will still be discussion and debate, but that's what we try to do—find a way to solve the problem respecting our principled position, but recognizing that others have principled positions as well that they feel just as strongly about," Powell said in an interview Wednesday with two student journalists representing the Knight Ridder-Tribune Campus news service.
Powell, who has been a champion within the Bush administration of seeking a united international front on Iraq, said: "We listened to our friends. Everybody accuses us of being unilateral and unaccommodating. We listened."
Powell has held near non-stop telephone conversations this week with counterparts from Britain, France, Russia and elsewhere. He also canceled a long-planned trip to South Korea this weekend due to the negotiations over the Iraq resolution and so that he could help shepherd the document's implementation if the United Nations approves it.
The resolution says Iraq must not make "false statements or omissions" in its declarations. It does not specify how it would be determined that Iraq was doing so.
Iraq would face several deadlines if the resolution is passed. It would have seven days to accept the resolution. Within 30 days of the passage of the resolution, Iraq would have to provide a full accounting of its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs. U.N. weapons inspections would have to start within 45 days. The inspectors then would have 60 days to make an initial report back to the council.
Iraq would not be permitted to threaten or carry out hostile acts against U.N. personnel or representatives from member states. An earlier understanding that limited inspectors' access to Iraqi presidential sites would not apply. Instead, Iraq would have to give inspectors "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access" to sites, records and people they want to interview.
While the United States believes it has addressed the concerns of other countries, "we'll see what they come up with," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. If "they come up with ideas that can be further accommodated, we might do that," Boucher said.
A senior U.S. official said Bush's top advisers are split on what to do if France and Russia insist on further changes. Top Pentagon officials want to abandon the diplomatic track, while others, primarily at State, are willing to make further adjustments
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested that no U.N. vote would be better than a vote in which a permanent Security Council member vetoed the resolution or others voted against it.
Such a badly divided Security Council "would send a horrible signal to the Iraqis," the official said.
Most council members were positive about the new draft.
"I hope now that with the text more or less as it stands, that it can be acceptable and that we can have a united council," said Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolbe.
Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's ambassador, said the council was "clearly moving toward a consensus. . . . All kinds of effort have been made to bridge the gap."
Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, whose country is a non-permanent Security Council member, said important changes in the language of the resolution were the two-stage approach favored by France and that "there wouldn't be an automatic mechanism for military intervention" if Iraq fails to comply.
(Knight Ridder correspondent Susana Hayward, as well as Rebecca Waddingham of Colorado State University and Robert Lopez of Ball State University contributed to this report.)
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.