UN resolution 'open to change'

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Posted by Tony from dsc04.lai-ca-1-60.rasserver.net ( on Monday, September 30, 2002 at 0:38AM :

UN resolution 'open to change'

Monday September 30, 2002

Britain and the United States intensified their efforts to forge an international consensus on Iraq yesterday when they signalled their willingness to tone down a tough United Nations security council resolution.
As Russia criticised a draft Anglo-American text as "unfeasible", Jack Straw and Colin Powell spoke on the telephone twice yesterday to try to incorporate Moscow's concerns into their resolution.

Washington is expected to table the resolution at the UN in the next 48 hours, heralding what one official described as the "real" negotiations.

Tony Blair attempted yesterday to reach out to Russia, France and China, the three veto-wielding members of the UN security council, who all have grave reservations about the tough Anglo-American stance. Speaking on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, the prime minister indicated that Britain and the US were prepared to amend their resolution when he described it as "probably not quite as definite as it might appear from some of the papers".

His remarks came after an intensive round of Anglo-American shuttle diplomacy over the weekend failed to allay the fears of the three sceptical permanent members of the security council. Iraq attempted to exploit the divisions among the "big five" powers, who call the shots at the UN, by bluntly rejecting the Anglo-American proposal over the weekend. Britain and the US want to threaten Iraq with military action if it fails to sign up to a tough new inspections regime within seven days and hand over full details of its weapons of mass destruction within 30 days if inspectors are readmitted.

As London and Washington prepared for a week of intense negotiations, Mr Straw, the foreign secretary, and Mr Powell, the US secretary of state, spoke twice by telephone yesterday to try to work out how to incorporate concerns into their resolution. But officials made clear that there could be no compromise on the core principles - the creation of a tough new inspections regime and warning that Iraq will face severe consequences if it fails to comply.

The "real" negotiations, which will begin in New York when the resolution is formally tabled before the UN, are likely to revolve around what is being described as the "trigger" for military action.

"We want to make clear that a strong resolution will lessen the chances of non-military action because it would persuade Saddam to comply with a tough inspections regime," one official said. "Others fear that a tough resolution will make military action more likely. That is the dynamic we are negotiating over."

One official said that the three sceptics on the security council were expected to engage more constructively once the resolution is tabled. "Nobody expected Russia, China and France to spell out their bottom lines this weekend because they are saving that up for the start of the formal negotiations in New York," one official said.

Britain and the US hope to reach agreement at the UN this week. They admit that they may fail to secure a consensus, but a planned visit by Mr Blair to Moscow next week may help negotiations.

Their talks may cover the financial help that the US is likely to provide Russia if it signs up to the resolution.

Russia is concerned that a US-backed successor to Saddam Hussein may not honour Iraq's $7bn debt from the Soviet era and the lucrative oil and construction contracts held by Russian firms in Iraq.

The delay in tabling the resolution means that the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, will today meet Iraqi officials without a new UN resolution. Britain and the US fear that this may clear the way for Iraq - whose officials will take part in two days of preparatory talks in Vienna - to agree to a new inspections regime on the basis of existing UN resolutions which allow Baghdad to block access to its so called "presidential palaces".

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that the talks would merely discuss practical arrangements.

-- Tony
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