The United States and Britain have made clear they are still seeking a UN Security Council resolution that authorizes the use of force against Iraq if weapons inspectors are not allowed unrestricted access to suspected weapons sites. The two countries, which traditionally have pressed the hardest line against Iraq on the council, remain at odds with some fellow council members over the use of language authorizing force in a new resolution.
United Nations, 15 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The permanent members of the UN Security Council remain divided over whether to support a resolution authorizing force if Iraq fails to meet the terms for the return of UN weapons inspectors.
The ongoing debate could expand into a public forum tomorrow when the council is scheduled to begin a lengthy open meeting on Iraq, at the request of the nonaligned movement.
In the month since U.S. President George W. Bush challenged the UN Security Council to respond to Iraq's defiance of the council, the permanent five members have been unable to reach a consensus on a key point.
The United States and Britain support a single resolution that would authorize military action in the event Iraq fails to comply with inspections. France has proposed that the council should commit to a two-resolution approach: the first sending inspectors back to Iraq with a strong mandate and a second, if necessary, responding to Iraqi defiance with a threat of force.
Bush told reporters yesterday that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will only comply if there are threats of punishment: "What I want is a firm resolution that says 'disarm' and an inspection regime that is there not for the sake of inspectors but is there to achieve the objective of disarming Mr. Saddam Hussein. It's his choice to make, and in order to make sure the resolution has got any kind of credence with Mr. Hussein, there has to be a consequence."
Bush said he wished to resolve the issue through the United Nations, saying military force was a final resort. But he repeated his position that an ineffective UN inspections regime is unacceptable.
Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, similarly called on the Security Council yesterday for more resolute action on Iraq. Addressing a UN General Assembly debate on Security Council reform, he said: "Disarmament under UN arrangements is the objective. To achieve this we have to give the UN inspectors the strongest powers possible to ensure successful disarmament and to make it crystal clear to Iraq that this time it is complete disarmament or serious consequences."
U.S. and British officials have carried on high-level talks with French, Russian, and Chinese diplomats about a strong resolution they have drafted. A spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the UN, Jana Chapman, told RFE/RL that U.S. negotiators continue to make progress on talks but declined to comment further.
The spokeswoman for France's UN mission, Ginette de Matha, said France has continued to promote its two-track approach. She told RFE/RL she had no immediate indications of a breakthrough: "The only thing I can say is that talks are going on, but I have no firm results at the moment."
Another Security Council diplomat told RFE/RL that the permanent five members appear to be struggling to resolve the issue.
The differences may be revealed further in an open meeting on Iraq scheduled for tomorrow in the council. South Africa requested the debate in a letter written on behalf of the nonaligned nations movement, which it chairs. So far, more than 50 nations have asked to address the council, and debate is expected to last two days.
South African officials say a number of governments want to express their views on Iraq because of the possibility of war there.
One nonaligned member, Malaysia, registered its views at the General Assembly debate yesterday on Security Council reform. Ambassador Hasmy Agam, who recently served on the council, urged members to exhaust all peaceful means for resolving the inspections dispute: "We urge Iraq to allow the unconditional return of United Nations inspectors and to comply with all the relevant Security Council resolutions. The council must act with courage and wisdom and consider all aspects and implications of its actions. Its very prestige and credibility hinges on this."
Iraq has said the UN inspection group, known as UNMOVIC, could return as early as 19 October to begin verifying whether Iraq has eliminated its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. But chief UN inspector Hans Blix has signaled that no inspectors will go to Iraq until the Security Council reaches broad agreement on tough new guidelines for their work.