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U.S. introduces Iraq resolution; Russia, France tout alternative plans

UNITED NATIONS—The United States on Friday formally introduced its new Security Council resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq, a surprise move that steps up the pace of final negotiations.

Russia and France, critics of the U.S. draft, circulated alternative proposals seeking to remove language they believe would give the United States a green light to invade Iraq if it does not comply with demands to scrap its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs.

U.S. officials want a vote on the resolution by the end of next week, but several delegations of Security Council member countries said the measure needs work before it can pass.

The Bush administration has said that a new resolution on Iraq must have teeth. But despite six weeks of negotiations, it has failed to convince Russia and France, who have veto power on the Security Council, to back a tough proposal.

A resolution needs at least nine "yes" votes and no vetoes to pass the 15-nation council. Besides Russia and France, the permanent members with veto power are the United States, Britain and China.

The U.S. draft no longer contains an earlier explicit authorization to use force against Iraq. But it does say Iraq is "in material breach" of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and that Iraq has been repeatedly warned that it faces "serious consequences" if it refuses to comply.

"The key of debate was on material breach, and clearly the council is very divided on that," said a delegate from Singapore, a member of the council, who requested anonymity.

A French diplomat, who also did not want to be named, said representatives from Mexico, Russia, China, Guinea and Syria said they were "worried" about the U.S. draft's mention of material breach. Russia, France and others oppose such language because they feel such "hidden triggers" could be used by the United States to justify unilateral military action.

They also have sought a less restrictive weapons inspections regime. For example, the United States wants to drop an existing agreement that gives U.N. inspectors limited access to presidential sites in Iraq; France and Russia do not.

President Bush on Sept. 12 sought U.N. backing on Iraq. But the United States has threatened to act alone if the United Nations can't agree on a plan.

Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission, said, "The real hidden trigger is the absence of a resolution."

France wants to condemn Iraq for not complying with the 16 U.N. resolutions on Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, but not use the term "material breach."

China also has expressed reservations about the U.S. draft, and on Friday Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan said he agreed with many of the French proposals.

President Bush on Friday hosted Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his Texas ranch and said he urged Jiang to back the United States on the Iraq resolution.

Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolbe said Friday's meetings helped move things forward, but work remained on "bridging the positions."

Several countries are concerned that the inspection regime might be set up in a way that guaranteed failure. Members of the council have said they wanted input on the resolution from the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and from International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed el Baradei. Both men are scheduled to appear before the council on Monday.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.