U.S., French diplomats agree on Iraq resolution

U By Maggie Farley

uNITED NATIONS–After nearly two months of wrangling, the United States has reportedly reached agreement with France on key provisions in an Iraq resolution, and will present the third and final draft to the Security Council on Wednesday.

U.S. officials say they are pushing for a vote by Friday, and hope that nearly all of the council’s 15 members will agree with their “core demands”: that weapons inspections must be more effective, and if Iraq does not cooperate, it will face “serious consequences” – probably a military attack.

French officials said that they would reserve their assessment until President Jacques Chirac has a chance to review the entire text, not just the paragraphs that have been under debate.

Though still a work in progress, a draft resolution obtained by the Los Angeles Times Tuesday evening appears to address some of the concerns raised by France, Russia and other members, by giving the Security Council the authority to decide if military force against Iraq is justified. But it does not say that the United States must wait for a council decision to strike.

“It is a masterpiece of creative ambiguity,” said a council diplomat who requested anonymity because not all the council members had seen the revised text. “It delineates what it needs to, but more important is what it doesn’t say.”

France’s main concern has been the “trigger” for force: how to determine whether Iraq has violated the terms of weapons inspections, and who shall decide what the consequences should be. France and others have wanted to ensure that the United States would not decide on its own to bomb Iraq after passing the resolution, and then say it was done with the approval of the Security Council. France, Russia, Mexico and others are adamant that only the Security Council can declare Iraq in “material breach” of the resolution, and authorize a punitive attack.

Although diplomats exchanged variations on wording for days to try to capture the precise legal terminology, they agreed in the end to rely on a few tweaks in the text.

The draft resolution declares that “Iraq has been and remains in material breach” of past U.N. resolutions requiring it to disarm, but gives Baghdad “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.” Weapons inspectors would report any failures to cooperate or comply with the terms of the new resolution to the Security Council, which would then decide on the consequences.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, reached a last-minute understanding on key sticking points Tuesday evening.

But Russia remains a wild card. If Moscow does not accept the U.S.-French compromise, it could pull the French away from the United States, bringing others along.

Though U.S. officials say that a few abstentions may be the price for a resolution tough enough to be successful, they would still like to have a show of unity on the council.

But even after the weeks of negotiations, questions remain. What constitutes a material breach? Leaving something off the list of declared weapons materiel? Stalling inspectors? National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said that even a two-hour delay of inspectors must be considered a violation, because it would allow sufficient time to hide evidence or destroy documents, as Iraqi officials have done in the past. Other council members, though, might not be willing to go to war over an incomplete list.

The resolution requires that Iraq declare its entire arsenal of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons materiel within 30 days, including items that have other industrial uses. It still includes a controversial provision to take Iraqi weapons experts and their families out of the country for interviews to avoid intimidation by the Iraqi government. But U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has questioned the measure’s practicality.