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UN: Council Narrows Differences Over Iraq As Vote Approaches

The new resolution on Iraq's disarmament is now approaching a final vote in the United Nations Security Council with indications that most differences have been resolved. France has signaled that its main concerns have been addressed in the latest revised resolution presented by the United States and Britain. But Russia is still questioning whether the resolution contains triggers for the use of military force.

United Nations, 7 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council is to continue a final round of discussions today on a new resolution setting the terms for weapons inspections in Iraq, while laboring to avoid the divisions that marred its last resolution on inspections.

The draft resolution presented by the United States and Britain yesterday addresses some, but not all, of the concerns raised by veto-wielding members Russia and France. Council members, including France, signaled they welcomed the modifications in the draft. The measure calls for a two-stage role for the council to consider charges of Iraqi noncompliance with inspectors. That represents a major change from an initial U.S. draft that threatened to use "all necessary means" against Baghdad if it did not comply.

Diplomats said Russia expressed the most concerns in yesterday's closed-door meeting, citing provisions it still considered as a trigger for the use of force.

The draft said the council would give Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations despite previous breaches. It said Iraq faced "serious consequences" if it continued to violate those obligations.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, speaking to reporters after yesterday's meeting, declined to speculate on a scenario for use of force: "What this resolution says is, if there are violations of the terms of this resolution and of Iraq's disarmament obligations, this matter is to be brought to the council for discussion and assessment. The resolution does not prejudge what might happen after that stage."

Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said they intended to put the resolution to a vote on 8 November. The measure is believed to have the support of the necessary nine members to pass in the 15-member council but the co-sponsors are seeking the broadest support possible.

Negroponte and Greenstock said the purpose of the resolution was to assure Iraqi disarmament, not build a case for war. Greenstock objected to suggestions that the resolution was seeking automatic triggers for military action: "This is not about triggers. This is not about automaticity. This is not about the use of force. This is about a choice for Iraq in going the UN route on disarmament. That's what the text is about."

There were reports late yesterday of concern by officials in Paris over "ambiguities" in the text that would allow a military strike. But France's UN ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, earlier told reporters that key progress had been achieved on satisfying France's call for a two-stage approach to handle issues of Iraqi noncooperation.

Levitte said throughout the seven-week negotiation process that France has sought a solution that assured Iraqi disarmament while maintaining Security Council primacy in that process: "We want to give a last chance to Iraq to disarm through UN inspections. For that we need an enhanced regime and for us, we've said right from the beginning that what is accepted and endorsed by Chairman Hans Blix will be supported by France."

Blix is chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), established in a resolution in late 1999 in which France, Russia, and China abstained. He has told the council that he supports the threat of consequences for Iraq if it fails to comply, due to its poor record of cooperation with the previous inspection mission known as UNSCOM.

Blix told reporters that the new resolution under discussion addresses many of his concerns. But he said he is seeking modifications in demands that Iraq provide detailed accounting of its chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons programs within 30 days.

The resolution says Iraq must also account for its civilian programs in these areas. But Blix told reporters Iraq would need more time to provide details on its petrochemical industry: "I made the point on the 30 days -- that to declare a program on the whole petrochemical industry might be difficult to put together in 30 days. That remark still [stands]."

Negroponte said there was room for further discussion on the issue today.

Blix had previously objected to another clause calling for interviews of Iraqi weapons experts inside or outside of Iraq. The new resolution still authorizes such interviews but at the discretion of UN inspectors.

There is broad council agreement on many of the tough guidelines set out for inspectors in the resolution, including unrestricted access to Iraq's sprawling presidential sites. Previously, Iraqi officials had special controls over inspections of those sites. Blix says an advance inspection team can travel to Iraq within one week to 10 days after the council adopts the resolution.

Under the time frame set out in the resolution, Iraq would have seven days after the resolution is passed to accept its terms and pledge to comply. Weapons inspectors would have 45 days to resume their work in Iraq. They would be required to report to the Security Council 60 days after the start of their work.