World leaders are trying to narrow their differences over Washington's call for a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would automatically authorize force against Iraq if it hampers UN weapons inspectors.
Prague, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An international lobbying effort is under way among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council over what to do about Iraq's alleged weapons programs.
In the past 24 hours, the governments of France, Russia, Britain, and China have all announced their positions on a draft UN resolution that has been circulated by Washington.
The United States is proposing a single UN resolution that automatically authorizes military strikes if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continues to avoid his disarmament obligations.
The U.S. proposal reportedly says Iraq must permit inspections at all sites, including presidential palace compounds that are considered off-limits to inspectors under existing UN resolutions.
The United States also wants the new resolution to be passed before UN inspectors return to Iraq under terms agreed earlier this week by Baghdad and the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix.
Blix's talks with Iraqi officials in Vienna this week were based upon the requirements of the existing UN resolutions.
What is emerging today is a growing consensus of support for giving UN inspectors greater access to suspected weapons sites in Iraq, including the presidential palace compounds.
But France and Russia say they still oppose any single resolution that automatically authorizes strikes against Iraq for noncompliance.
French President Jacques Chirac enunciated his country's reaction to the U.S. proposal last night in Paris after talks with visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "We want the inspectors to return to Iraq without any condition, and [we] appreciate and approve the efforts undertaken by Mr. Blix," Chirac said. "On the other hand, we are totally against a single UN resolution that would immediately give an automatic character to military intervention."
Chirac has proposed the idea of two new UN resolutions. The first would support the U.S. call for inspectors to be given greater access to suspected weapons sites. "Above all, we want Iraq to be without weapons of mass destruction and this should be controlled unambiguously," Chirac said.
But military strikes under the French plan would only be authorized under a second resolution. And any vote on that resolution would have to wait until Blix's team has arrived in Iraq and completed its initial report on whether Baghdad is cooperating.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov today suggested that Russia's position remains closer to that of France than of Washington. Saltanov said the U.S. draft resolution has "invigorated Russia's confidence" that it is right to oppose the automatic authorization of force.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said today that Beijing wants any new UN resolution to be aimed at getting weapons inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible.
When asked about Washington's calls to include the threat of force, the spokesman said Beijing wants diplomacy to be aimed at "promoting a political resolution to the Iraqi issue."
But in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair today urged the other Security Council members to support a toughly worded resolution that includes the threat of military strikes.
Blair called Saddam Hussein a "dictator." He said diplomacy that is not backed with force, when dealing with a dictator, is ineffective and can be counterproductive. "If [disarmament] can be done by a tough new weapons-inspection regime, we will do it that way. But if it can't be done that way, we have to do it the other way, by force, if necessary. Now it is as simple as that," Blair said.
Blair said that Hussein would be mistaken if he thinks the differences between the permanent Security Council members would allow him to avoid his obligation to dismantle programs for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. "The single worst thing we could do in this situation is to send a message that allows him to think, 'Well, maybe if I really play about a bit, or muck around as I've done in the past few years, I can avoid disarmament.' He can't avoid it. It is going to happen one way or another," Blair said.
Although Blair reaffirmed the importance of following what he called "the UN route," he said the UN must deal with the issue rather than serve as a way to avoid dealing with it. It is too early for him to say whether the French or the U.S. proposals will be taken up by the Security Council because intensive negotiations are continuing.