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U.S. reaches agreement with France, others on Iraq; Resolution to be presented to U.N. Wednesday

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration won agreement from France and other key doubters Tuesday on a new United Nations resolution demanding that Iraq scrap its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, a deal clinched in a series of high-level phone calls by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Approval of the resolution appears likely to delay, perhaps for several months, any U.S.-led military action to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, as the world waits to see whether Baghdad will comply with the world body's disarmament demands.

While officials cautioned that last-minute glitches are possible, the deal appears to end, at least for now, the disagreements with other world powers and within the U.S. government over how to deal with Saddam.

The United States plans to present the resolution Wednesday at the United Nations, and senior U.S. officials predicted that after weeks of wrangling, it would win backing from all of the 15-member U.N. Security Council except for Syria.

The American position was finalized Monday afternoon at a pivotal White House "principals' meeting" that was attended by Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell's view that the United States should continue to work diplomatically and come up with a plan its allies could accept prevailed at the meeting, several officials said. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity

Cheney and Rumsfeld asked for a few minor wording changes but abandoned their months-long effort to press for a U.N. resolution that Saddam was unlikely to accept and that would authorize military action without further debate.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, the officials said, worried that proceeding internationally could tie America's hands and leave Saddam free to pursue his weapons programs. However, several officials said, Rice sided with Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and concluded that the United States should assemble an international coalition against Iraq rather than trying to proceed unilaterally.

The new U.S. draft resolution was tailored to meet the objections of France, Russia and other nations that had balked at language they viewed as an automatic trigger for U.S. military action if Iraq refuses to allow unfettered weapons inspections.

A senior U.S. official predicted Tuesday evening that the text would win "broad support" in the Security Council. The White House is pressing for a final vote by Friday.

France has indicated that it would not raise new objections, the official said.

Another senior official said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin agreed to the wording of the resolution, but that French President Jacques Chirac still had to approve it. President Bush is expected to discuss the resolution by telephone Wednesday morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Along with de Villepin, Powell spoke by telephone Tuesday with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

Other U.S. officials said the Bush administration offered only minor wording changes to assuage other nations' fears that Bush would claim the resolution gives him authority to wage war on Iraq if Baghdad interferes even slightly with weapons inspectors.

France and Russia, in particular, had objected to language stating that if Iraq did not follow the council's demands to disarm, it would be in "material breach" of its obligations—diplomatic code for authorizing military force.

The precise new language that Washington proposed could not be learned Tuesday night.

But Powell and others have said that if Iraq balks at weapons inspections, offers false declarations of its weapons programs or shows a pattern of denying access to inspectors, Washington and its allies would feel free to take military action even without new U.N. authorization.

"We're going to keep basically the language we have," said a third senior official.

Earlier Tuesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there was "growing support in the council for a strong resolution that makes clear to Iraq that it has failed to comply in the past, that it needs to comply with a tough inspection regime, that there'll be serious consequences if it doesn't."

U.S. officials said they hoped the new resolution would switch the focus of international attention from American war plans to Iraq's obligations to disarm, which Baghdad has evaded since shortly after the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991.

The resolution allows Iraq 30 days to give the United Nations a full accounting of its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs.

U.N. teams are to begin unimpeded weapons inspections 45 days after the resolution is voted, and report to the Security Council in 60 days on Iraq's compliance.


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