The next and possibly last progress report by United Nations inspectors on Iraq's disarmament efforts is due to take place on 7 March at a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council. Some council members have said the inspectors' reports will help them reach a decision on whether to continue with inspections or to back a draft resolution that would implicitly authorize war against Iraq. U.S. officials are expected to seek a vote on the draft as early as next week.
United Nations, 5 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council has decided to hold another high-level open briefing with its chief weapons inspectors in Iraq amid what is seen as the final stages of discussions on whether to authorize war against Iraq.
No shift in positions is apparent among the five permanent UN Security Council members.
At an organizational meeting of the 15-member council yesterday, France and Germany announced that their foreign ministers would attend the briefing on 7 March. Britain, Spain, and Syria have also said their foreign ministers would attend.
Chief UN inspector Hans Blix will be expanding on a written report he submitted to the council on 28 February in which he described Iraqi disarmament as "very limited" so far. But at the time that report was released, Iraq had begun to comply with Blix's order to destroy its Al-Sumud 2 missiles. Nearly one-fifth of the 100 missiles have been destroyed already. France says the destruction of the missiles is another sign the inspections are working and that they should be continued.
France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said yesterday that the 7 March briefing from Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad el-Baradei, was coming at a crucial time for resolving the crisis. He called it a defining moment for the council. "It will be an important moment because we have been waiting for this report, and there is, as you know, on the table, not only a resolution but a memorandum about the inspections, and it is very important to listen to what Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei will tell us in this context," de La Sabliere said.
The United States, Britain, and Spain have sponsored a resolution saying Iraq has missed its final opportunity to disarm peacefully and must face the consequences. A vote on the resolution is expected as early as next week. France, Russia, and Germany, on the other hand, have circulated a memorandum calling for toughened inspections to run until July.
A new UN resolution is seen as crucial for providing political cover for U.S. allies such as Britain, whose government faces strong domestic opposition to a war. U.S. officials say they have the authority to launch a war without a new resolution because of Iraq's ongoing breach of disarmament obligations. More than 225,000 U.S. forces are now in the Persian Gulf area. Yesterday, the U.S. government ordered 60,000 more troops to the region.
But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking in London yesterday, said force is not authorized under the latest council resolution on Iraq that was passed in November. "As regards Resolution 1441, after it was adopted, we made a clear and unambiguous statement that this resolution did not contain any provisions for automatic use of force. If there is a breach of this resolution on the part of Iraq that is recognized as a serious breach, this issue should go back to the Security Council, and the Security Council should decide what to do in that case," Ivanov said.
Ivanov said Russia has not ruled out the use of a veto to prevent a war that could be authorized under the draft resolution.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters that the co-sponsors of the draft are working to gain the necessary nine votes needed for the measure to pass. "We have put down what we think to be a very reasonable resolution that concluded that Iraq is not complying with Resolution 1441 and prior disarmament resolutions, and we think that it's time for the council to face that decision," Negroponte said.
Veto-holding members France, Russia, and China, as well as nonpermanent members Germany and Syria, are the main opponents of authorizing force. Bulgaria supports the U.S. position. Six other nonpermanent members are undecided. Most have publicly expressed support for continuing sanctions but have been in daily contact with U.S. officials lobbying for the resolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday said he was increasingly optimistic the council would adopt the draft resolution.
Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, told reporters his country had to balance a number of factors in deciding on how to resolve the Iraq crisis, including regional stability. That country, a nonpermanent member of the council, has seen some of its biggest anti-U.S. rallies in years. "We will have to be responsive to our public opinion, but above all we have to be responsive to our national interests," Akram said.
The UN ambassador from the West African country of Guinea, Mamady Traore, takes over the presidency of the Security Council this month. His country is among three African states on the council whose votes would be needed to pass the resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain, and Spain.
Traore told a news conference yesterday that his government was still considering the options. "My country has decided to think it over, to consider this before expressing its position on the documents submitted to the council, and I think this position has not been reached yet," Traore said.
Two other nonpermanent members of the Security Council, Chile and Mexico, continue to try to bridge the differences among the five permanent members. They have been exploring ways that a proposal from Canada could help reach a compromise.
Canada has proposed a timetable for UN inspectors to report on Iraqi cooperation on disarmament, with the final report scheduled for 28 March. The Security Council would then be asked to vote on 31 March on whether Iraq was complying with its UN obligations.