US Warns France in Struggle Over Iraq

February 25, 2003

The UN draft resolution on Iraq tabled yesterday by Britain, the US and Spain is far milder than the document Washington originally had in mind, reflecting entrenched security council opposition. But it still spells war.

The line that counts comes almost at the end, in "operational paragraph" number one. In that single-line clause, the security council "decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it" in the last resolution, 1441, passed in November, which had threatened Iraq with "serious consequences" for non-compliance.

The British believe that by referring back to 1441, which was passed unanimously, it will be harder for the security council to reject the draft. "People will have to ask themselves questions about what they are voting against, because it will not just be against the UN and Iraq, but it will be against the legality of something they have already agreed."

The Bush administration, which was only reluctantly persuaded of the need for another resolution early in the new year, wanted the draft to be more explicit in drawing the obvious conclusion - that Iraq was once more in "material breach" and would now face the "serious consequences".

Washington considered going even further, demanding the security council approve the use of "all necessary means" to enforce its will. That was before the unexpectedly positive report issued on February 14 by Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, who emphasised the improvement in Iraq's cooperation and called into question some of the US evidence against Iraq.

It was also before the vigorous appeals for more time for inspections from 12 of the 15 members of the security council, led by France. The US needed nine votes and no vetoes. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, ditched tentative plans to table a tough resolution immediately, realising it had to be toned down.

"The Americans' original language was quite tough on requiring the words 'material breach' and so on," said a British official. "We said you simply have to refer back to resolution 1441, otherwise you're simply not going to get the nine votes."

For several days the British had been suggesting a draft resolution that would restate the requirement of 1441 that Iraq offer full cooperation. London also raised the possibility of laying down a final deadline of anything from 48 hours to a month.

However, the February 14 setback for the US and its security council allies was so painful that US officials suggested that they might abandon the pursuit of a further resolution and just go to war with a "coalition of the willing". Mr Powell went back to Washington to consult President Bush and the White House national security staff.

Before he did, he conferred with Jack Straw at a hasty meeting in New York, in which the foreign secretary stressed the importance of a resolution to gaining popular support for war. Back in Washington on Saturday, the Bush team agreed to gamble on a resolution. After all, its military deployments were weeks behind schedule and would only reach peak readiness by mid-March.

At the same time, the White House floated a new idea, telling journalists that a draft resolution might include three tests of Iraqi intentions. Baghdad would be given an ultimatum of a few weeks to provide unfettered interviews with its scientists, destroy its Samoud missiles, and allow overflights by spy planes. However, the idea of benchmarks faded last week, as heated negotiations continued between Washington and London.

A US official said: "In the end it was felt that you don't need additional benchmarks when you've already given them in 1441. It reflects the fact that 1441 was a final opportunity. There can't be a final opportunity after a final opportunity."

The final draft principally reflects the original British suggestion, restating 1441 and 16 prior resolutions on disarming Iraq, and recalling the observation made in 1441 that Baghdad was already in material breach. It echoes the language of 1441 by noting that Iraq made "false statements" on the declaration on weapons programmes it presented to the UN in December, and had "failed to comply with and cooperate fully" with UN weapons inspections.

It recognises the threat that Iraq's non-compliance with resolutions on weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security. Instead of issuing an explicit ultimatum, the US and Britain decided to suggest an "implicit" deadline with informal remarks suggesting there were two weeks to go before a vote.

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