March 7, 2003
Britain proposed a March 17 deadline for Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. inspections or face war after the chief weapons inspectors gave the Security Council a generally upbeat report today on Iraq's cooperation.
Diplomats said the United States supports the proposal, an amendment to a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution that paves the way for war. But France, Germany, and other council members rejected the plan, saying it would automatically lead to military action, and France threatened to veto the resolution. "All we're saying is that Iraq will have failed to take advantage of its final opportunity on March 17 if the council doesn't conclude before then that the Iraqis have completely cooperated," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the change during his speech before the council. He said it would "specify a further period beyond the adoption of a resolution for Iraq to take the final opportunity to disarm and to bring themselves into compliance." Delivering his remarks during a lively council debate, Straw looked directly at French Foreign Minister Domnique de Villepin, and repeatedly referred to him by his first name. "He doesn't need more time to comply," Straw said of Saddam. "As he showed this week, he can act with astonishing speed when he wants to." His comments were greeted by applause.
But France rejected the amendment, which some countries had hoped could provide a compromise to bring a bitterly divided council together on Iraq. "We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting cooperation," de Villepin told the council. He said a deadline would be "a pretext for war."
"France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force," he said. The French foreign minister drew soft applause from some diplomats seated in the council gallery. But the response stopped short of the spontaneous outpouring of support he received on Feb. 14, when foreign ministers last attended a briefing by the weapons inspectors.
China and Russia rejected the idea of another resolution but neither country threatened a veto. Today's meeting, held a day after President Bush said crisis was in its "last phase of diplomacy," appeared to leave Washington and London struggling for U.N. support for the resolution. Despite weeks of diplomatic maneuvering, they have been unable to muster the nine votes necessary for the resolution's passage.
With the threat of war looming and a vote on military action probably just days away, the chief U.N. weapons inspectors told the council that after 3Â½ months of investigation Iraq has become more cooperative in disarming. The reports were expected to be pivotal for some undecided council members seeking a compromise. Chief Inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad's cooperation "can be seen as active, or even proactive." Top nuclear inspector Mohammed ElBaradei made his strongest statement yet in support of Iraq's efforts.
"In the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation," ElBaradei said. "I do hope that Iraq will continue to expand the scope and accelerate the pace of its cooperation." But Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted that Saddam's performance was "still a catalog of noncooperation."
Powell said the world body "must not walk away" from supporting force to disarm Iraq, despite some progress achieved through the pressure of international inspections. Saddam's intent "has not changed," Powell told the council, as he sought adoption of a new resolution to back force as a last option. "Iraq is once again moving down the path to weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Straw presented few details of the proposed deadline during his council address. Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said the United States and Britain would ask the council to vote early next week on the amended resolution. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said that if necessary, they would go to war without U.N. support, but both know U.N. backing would give the war international legitimacy. With 300,000 troops massing in the region, Washington must now find a way to get the council on its side.
In his report, Blix said Iraq had recently provided additional documentation on anthrax and the VX nerve agent. "Many have been found to restate what Iraq has already declared," he said. Iraq claims to have destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction. In a veiled jab at the United States, Blix said inspectors had been unable to verify some U.S. claims about hidden Iraqi weapons and he asked again for more information about suspect sites.
Still, Blix couldn't say Iraq was fully complying with its obligations. He also plans to brief the council on a 167-page document he has prepared listing the series of outstanding disarmament issues. ElBaradei also criticized U.S. intelligence, saying his analysis now definitively showed that suspect aluminum tubes were not destined for equipment that could be used to refine uranium for nuclear weapons use.
"Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets," ElBaradei said. ElBaradei reiterated that nuclear weapons inspections were moving forward and said his teams had so far found no evidence Iraq was reviving its atomic program.
Straw, who had seen an advance copy of Blix's report, described it as "a shocking indictment of the record of Saddam's deception and deceit, but above all, of the danger which he poses to the region and to the world." Straw had said before the meeting that Britain was willing to compromise on the wording of the resolution as long as the final text still included an authorization for military action-- a reference to the proposed deadline.
Straw's insistence on the use of force was unlikely to be acceptable to key council powers such as Russia. And Britain and the U.S. face a possible disagreement over Bush's call for Saddam to be ousted, which Straw said was not necessarily the aim of his government. If Iraq disarms in compliance with U.N. resolutions, then "we accept that the government of Iraq stays in place," Straw said.
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