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U.N. inspectors tentatively endorse U.S. resolution on Iraq

UNITED NATIONS—Two top weapons inspectors told the United Nations Security Council on Monday that a draft U.S. resolution on confronting Iraq would allow a strong disarmament inspections, although they said some points need to be clarified.

The briefing from Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei seemed to bolster efforts to push the U.S. resolution through the divided 15-nation council as it begins what is expected to be a final week of intense negotiations. Several diplomats on the council had said they would weigh the inspectors' views in deciding how to vote.

After the meeting, U.S. and British co-sponsors of the draft resolution seemed full of renewed enthusiasm. Though the pace of further U.N. negotiations remains uncertain after six weeks of talks, U.S. officials said they hope for a vote later this week.

Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, and ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, gave the U.S. proposal essential support. Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, a council member who favors a strong resolution, said Blix and ElBaradei agreed with the U.S. draft "on almost everything."

"For those who want a strong resolution, this reaffirms our belief," Valdivieso said.

Blix and ElBaradei told reporters that if the Security Council is unified behind a final resolution, that would give them greater chances of success.

"We have stressed, both of us, that just as important as clarity in the text and clarity in the mandate is the readiness of the council to uphold the resolution and the prerogatives of the inspectors, that there be no sort of fatigue in the maintenance, because then our authority will go down," Blix said.

They added that the threat of consequences for Iraqi obstruction was likely to encourage greater cooperation from Iraq. But both men stressed that they did not want to be put in the position of deciding when Iraq had crossed the line of noncompliance.

"We will report objectively ... and it will be for the council to determine whether something is in a material breach and if it wants to give it consequences," Blix said. "We have seen it sometimes suggested that we hold peace and war in our hands. We decline that statement. Our job is to report. And the decision as to whether there is war or peace is a reaction that is for the council and for its members."

According to several diplomats, Blix and ElBaradei raised a handful of specific points in the resolution's text, mostly on practical matters such as reporting deadlines and composition of inspection staffs. The inspectors also said they wanted discretion in deciding when to remove Iraqi witnesses from the country.

Two fundamental points in the draft—a stringent weapons-inspections regime and the threat of serious consequences for non-compliance—have sparked sharp criticism from several Security Council members, most notably France, Russia and China. All three, like the United States and Britain, are permanent, veto-bearing members. Though none has said it would veto the U.S.-U.K. draft, Russia and France last week informally circulated their own, less-restrictive ideas about a new Iraq resolution.

The Russian position has been all but dismissed as too loose to be effective. But some council diplomats have said the French paper may serve as a bridge toward a broader agreement. Asked Monday whether France had decided against a veto, a French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "For the moment the mood is to try to reach consensus."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with his British, French and Russian counterparts in recent days.

"We think we're making progress. We think we've narrowed down the differences to a few key issues," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday in Washington. "I think there's general agreement in the council that there needs to be a strong resolution; that the stronger the resolution, the more chance we are to get some sort of compliance from the Iraqis. We've made progress, but we're not there yet."

Bush sought to keep the pressure on Monday, repeating during a campaign stop in Colorado points he has emphasized almost daily for weeks—that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that the U.N.'s credibility is on the line as it decides how to respond.

"I don't want the United Nations to be the League of Nations," Bush said.

"But it's their choice to make ... as to whether or not Saddam is going to be allowed to defy their resolutions and weaken—weaken their capacity to keep the peace. Their choice. And Saddam Hussein has got a choice to make, too. He can do what he said he would do, he can disarm."

In order to pass the council, a resolution must get nine affirmative votes with no veto. As the debate continues, Mexico is emerging as the potential swing vote. President Bush, in Mexico last weekend, was unable to get Mexican President Vicente Fox to endorse the U.S. draft.

Mexican U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said Monday that he continued to weigh various factors and hoped for a clear, unambiguous final resolution that contained "realistic" demands and goals.

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

Iraq

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