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UN/Iraq: Security Council Discussion On Disarming Baghdad Intensifies

With the entire 15-member UN Security Council now formally discussing a tough resolution on Iraqi disarmament, the initial signals are that there is a strong push in the council for a consensus. Diplomats say despite continuing opposition from France and Russia, they are unlikely to veto the proposed resolution. And an upcoming meeting with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to provide a clear sign whether a new resolution will be adopted in the short term.

United Nations, 25 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- All 15 UN Security Council members are expected to engage in a daylong debate today to examine the details of a proposed U.S. draft resolution calling for tough new weapons inspections in Iraq.

Diplomats said after the first consultations on the resolution Wednesday that there was broad agreement in favor of a new resolution, the return of inspectors, and a united message to Iraq to disarm.

But three of the permanent five veto-wielding members -- Russia, France and China -- objected to language that they still believe provides an automatic trigger for the use of military force in the event of Iraqi noncompliance with inspections. Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, also told reporters there were "unrealistic" demands in the resolution that "could not be implemented."

But Western diplomats on the council indicated yesterday that France would accept the new terms if they are acceptable to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

U.S. officials said they introduced the resolution formally this week because of a sense of urgency on the need for Iraq to show it has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction. U.S. officials have been willing to work toward a council resolution because they are hopeful of gaining support beyond the nine votes needed to pass the resolution, says David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy and a close observer of Security Council affairs. "Its delay in pressing it to a vote suggests to me that they're still hoping in Washington to bring the French -- and through the French, the Russians -- on board, voting affirmatively for the resolution. There's no prospect of a French veto, and it's highly unlikely the Russians would veto this resolution," Malone said.

China had originally said it did not see the need for a new resolution because it believed existing resolutions were sufficient to resume inspections. But it has told council members in recent discussions that it is willing to discuss a new text. U.S. President George W. Bush will have an opportunity to seek China's support later today in a meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his ranch in Texas.

Diplomats say the debate today in the council will not involve a vote on the resolution. The council will hear on 28 October from Blix and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad El-Baradei, about the feasibility of the suggested inspection requirements. An endorsement from Blix of the resolution's inspections measures is expected to have a major impact on undecided council members. One diplomat from a Western country on the council told RFE/RL, "If it's OK with him, it's OK with us."

U.S. officials hope council members will be ready for a vote soon after that meeting.

Malone, of the International Peace Academy, told RFE/RL that Blix is not expected to have serious difficulties with the form of inspections proposed by the United States and Britain. "A strong mandate actually suits Blix, but what Blix needs is reasonable timing on reporting requirements from him [to the council], and I think he's come to an understanding with the United States and other members of the council on that," Malone said.

The resolution calls for UN inspectors to be permitted to search for weapons anywhere in Iraq and at any time, including unrestricted access to presidential sites. Those sites, which the United States believes could be used to hide weapons programs, were granted special status under previous agreements between Iraq and the United Nations.

One controversial clause that remains in the U.S. draft allows Iraqi scientists and their family members to be taken out of the country for interviews. It is intended to reduce the possibility of intimidation by the Iraqi government, but Baghdad considers it a violation of citizens' rights.

The resolution calls for Iraq to accept its terms within seven days and to declare its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles within 30 days. Inspectors would have 45 days from the adoption of the measure to resume work.