UNITED NATIONS—The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a tough resolution Friday that gives Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm and warns that noncompliance will bring "serious consequences."
The 15-0 vote, a major diplomatic victory for the United States, came after eight weeks of intense negotiations between the United States and the capitals of other council members. Diplomats said they hoped Iraq would respond to the will of the international community.
The world's determination was underscored by the unanimity of the vote. Even Syria, the toughest to convince, went along. The Islamic nation has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since the list was started in 1979. In recent years, it has sought better ties with the United States.
"The resolution approved today presents the Iraqi regime with a test—a final test," President Bush said. "Iraq must now, without delay or negotiations, fully disarm, welcome full inspections and fundamentally change the approach it has taken for more than a decade."
The first test comes quickly: Iraq has seven days to acknowledge and accept the resolution. Within 30 days, it must provide weapons inspectors with a full accounting of its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs.
U.N. weapons inspections are to be up and running within 45 days, and inspectors are to report to the council after 60 days of work. If Iraq does not comply with the weapons inspectors' demands, the Security Council will meet immediately and determine what action to take.
Most council nations approved this two-stage approach, and the United States was persuaded to accept it in negotiations.
U.S. and British officials, who co-sponsored the resolution, said it did not preclude any member from taking action on its own, even without explicit council approval.
The United States believes it already has sufficient authorization to attack Iraq. But Bush would risk high political costs if the United States attacked Iraq alone and sustained heavy casualties or got bogged down in efforts to restore stability in a land known for its ethnic and religious rivalries. Surveys show that most Americans would support a war against Iraq only with the support of allies. Friday's Security Council vote makes it more likely that the United States will get that support if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein thwarts inspectors again.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they planned to have advance inspections teams in Iraq on Nov. 18.
"The clock is ticking right now," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We think that the government of Iraq has a pretty fundamental choice to make, and if they make the wrong choice, we think it will be apparent pretty early on."
The resolution declares that Iraq has been and remains in "material breach" of its obligations to disarm under 16 previous resolutions. It says that any false statements, omissions or failure to cooperate would constitute further violations.
Blix and ElBaradei are to immediately report "any interference ... as well as any failure" by Iraq to comply with the disarmament program. Inspectors or U.N. member states can report Iraqi violations to the council.
No "traps or false obstacles" are built into the resolution, the official said. The council will decide whether to take military action based on whether Iraq complies with the resolution, the official added.
"If they confirm their intent to comply, and then attach 50 pages of conditions, well, that will be its own signal," the official said. "If they submit a declaration that simply says, `We don't know what you're talking about,' that will be another signal."
Several council nations, led by Russia and France, feared that earlier drafts of the resolution contained "hidden triggers" that could be interpreted as a blank check for military strikes, without explicit approval from the council. At the heart of the discussions were the words "material breach"—diplomatic code words authorizing war.
Ultimately, the successful negotiations over words were capped by reassurances that the United States and Britain wanted the inspections to work. Weeks of high-level negotiations between capitals and a series of phone calls between Bush and heads of state of other Security Council nations led to the final accord. Final wording was agreed on Thursday night.
Revisions to the text did not change the bottom line of the resolution—declaring that Iraq has failed to give up its weapons of mass destruction and threatening serious consequences if it does not disarm.
While many members took issue with sections of the text, the final dispute boiled down to two words. The word "or" was changed to "and" in one passage, and the word "restore" was replaced by "secure" in a passage about international peace and security.
Syria asked for more time to make its decision. The United States refused to wait.
"I think Syria just ultimately saw where their interests were in this matter," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Ron Hutcheson contributed to this report.)
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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