Resolution on Iraq passes
Security Council vote unanimous
By Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 11/09/2002
NITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council unanimously approved yesterday a forceful resolution giving Iraq a final chance to disarm or face the prospect of an American-led war.
The 15-to-0 decision was a major diplomatic victory for the United States and Britain, which had spent eight weeks negotiating with skeptical allies Russia and France and repeatedly revising the language of the resolution to ensure global support for an ironclad arms inspection program in Iraq. Even Syria, Iraq's neighbor and ally, voted for the measure.
That started the clock ticking for Baghdad's compliance. Iraq now has seven days to accept the measure; if it does so, as expected, UN weapons chief Hans Blix would arrive in Iraq with an advance team Nov. 18. Inspections must begin by Dec. 23, and the team would report back by Feb. 21.
The vote -- expressing rare consensus at the UN on Iraq -- sets in place a rigorous UN weapons-inspection process that is backed up by the threat of "serious consequences" should Iraq fail to comply. President Bush, applauding yesterday's vote, said the measure "presents Iraq with a final test" of whether it intends to disarm fully and peacefully.
"The outcome of the current crisis is already determined," said Bush, speaking in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. "The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction will occur. The only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how."
Underscoring American determination to act militarily should diplomacy fail, Bush added, "If we're to avert war, all nations must continue to pressure Saddam Hussein to accept this resolution and to comply with its obligations and his obligations."
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, whose country helped Washington build support for the resolution, echoed that challenge. "Saddam must now make his choice. My message to him is this: Disarm or you face force," Blair said in a statement.
Mohammed Al-Douri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, said Baghdad would study the new mandate. When asked whether Iraq would accept its terms, Douri responded: "I cannot say if it is likely or unlikely."
The vote ended nearly eight weeks of arduous shuttle diplomacy that left UN diplomats at times despairing that consensus would not be reached. France and Russia, in particular, insisted on changes designed to ensure further UN deliberation before war could be waged upon Iraq.
The compromise resolution produced through the negotiations underscores how seriously UN diplomats took Bush's challenge on Sept. 12, when he told the UN it must act on Iraq or become irrelevant. Bush noted that the UN had adopted numerous resolutions since the 1991 Gulf War calling on Iraq to disarm, but that all had been stymied, leading to the withdrawal of UN inspectors in 1998.
UN weapons inspections are required as part of the 1991 cease-fire that ended the Gulf War. UN sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 are slated to remain until Iraq disarms.
In the end, the final resolution reflected a dramatic evolution in the Bush administration's stance, from an initial insistence for "regime change" in Iraq, not just disarmament.
Two months ago, after Vice President Dick Cheney all but dismissed UN weapons inspections, the United States submitted a draft resolution that relied more on the threat of military action than on the power of UN inspections. That first draft threatened "all necessary means" should Iraq fail to comply with strict new inspections, and those words held open the prospect of an immediate American-led war to oust Hussein.
But France and Russia, permanent council members with veto power, wanted a two-step process: the first resolution setting a tough course of UN weapons inspections, the second considering force should Iraq fail to comply. They feared that the American draft would give Washington a blank check for military force.
The version that passed yesterday, UN Resolution 1441, represents something of a middle ground. Even President Jacques Chirac of France, who rallied the original opposition to the first US draft, said it now gave Iraq "a chance to disarm peacefully."
It gives the UN weapons inspectors a new, more powerful mandate, with the right to unfettered access to weapons sites -- including Saddam Hussein's presidential compounds -- as well as the right to interview key officials.
To satisfy the United States, it declares that Iraq has been and remains in "material breach" of its 1991 legal obligations to disarm -- words the US interprets as justifying military action. But the new resolution pointedly tells Iraq it has a "final opportunity" to disarm.
Should Iraq commit a "further material breach," the resolution gives UN weapons inspectors and the Security Council a more pivotal role in deciding what should happen next. For example, should any country discover information that it believes puts Iraq in material breach of its obligations, that suspicion would be investigated by inspectors and then discussed by the council.
That means that the Bush administration is committed to a second round of discussions with UN diplomats.
A US official said a turning point in the negotiations was Washington's acceptance of a two-stage approach. But he emphasized that the resolution leaves open the option for the United States to use force against Iraq regardless.
"We already have the authorization to use force if the president decides to do so," the official said. "There is nothing in the resolution that undercuts that."
But in an unusual move, France, Russia, and China issued a joint statement late yesterday declaring that the resolution "excludes any automaticity in the use of force." And, as UN diplomats took to the floor of the council chamber yesterday morning, it was clear there were differing interpretations of some of the fine print.
US Ambassador John D. Negroponte emphasized that the resolution was about peaceful disarmament, saying, "We urge you to join us in our common effort to secure that goal and assure peace and security in the region."
But he added that "every act of Iraqi noncompliance will be a serious matter, because it would tell us that Iraq has no intention of disarming." Some UN diplomats interpreted that to mean that any act of defiance by Iraq would be seen by the United States as a pretext for military action.
Ambassador Sergey Lavrov of Russia told council diplomats that Moscow's approval of the resolution was based on an "assurance" from the United States and Great Britain that war was not the mandate's objective.
"They gave an assurance that the resolution sought the goal of implementing existing decision by the Security Council on Iraq through inspections," Lavrov said.
Syria's last-minute vote for the resolution elicited gasps of surprise in the council chamber. Deputy Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, clarifying his vote, said his government received "reassurances that this resolution would not be used as a pretext to strike Iraq."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan immediately notified Iraq that it must comply and accept the terms by next Friday.
As a US official noted: "The clock is ticking right now. We feel the government of Iraq has a pretty fundamental choice to make."
The official added, "If they make the wrong choice, we think it will be apparent pretty early on."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/09/2002.
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