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US, French Battle Over Iraq

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U.S., French battle over Iraq

By Linda Fasulo and Sean Federico-O'Murchu

MSNBC AND NBC NEWS

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 16 — The battle over a new U.N. resolution on Iraq has turned into a heavyweight wrestling bout between the United States and France, according to diplomats at the United Nations. Neither side is willing to budge from its strongly held position on how the international community should put the squeeze on President Saddam Hussein.

THE STALEMATE has stymied, for now, President Bush’s hopes of pressuring Iraq with two resolutions, one from the U.S. Congress, which he signed Wednesday, and one from the United Nations that would authorize force if Baghdad failed to comply with U.N. demands.

On Wednesday, Bush said he was a “patient man.” But he warned that unless the United Nations acts, the United States will lead its own coalition to force Saddam to disarm.

Underscoring Washington’s resolve, U.S. officials told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday night that the administration must get a U.N. vote by the end of the month — or decide to go it alone.

Three key members of the Security Council — Russia, China and France — oppose the Bush administration’s strategy and all have veto power in a council vote.

U.S. FOCUSES ON FRANCE

But, according to one diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, the French are the biggest obstacle for the United States and Washington is aiming its diplomatic offensive at them.

For now, U.S. and French diplomats are exchanging tweaks in proposed language for a new U.N. resolution. But at the heart of the dispute is the question of whether the United Nations should approve one or two resolutions on Iraq.

The differences are so deep that many diplomats doubt that any resolution will come before the Security Council before next week — and perhaps even later than that.

On Wednesday, dozens of other nations weighed in at the Security Council, which hosted a two-day debate on Iraq.

The meeting was requested by the Nonaligned Movement of some 130 mainly developing countries that are seeking a peaceful settlement of the U.N. dispute with Iraq.

U.S. officials described it as an opportunity — poorly timed in Washington’s view — for nations to vent. But they don’t believe it will have any bearing on the eventual resolution.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The more significant deliberations are taking place behind closed doors and at the highest levels of the five nations that hold veto power over any new resolutions: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The Russians and Chinese have sided with France and its two-resolution formula.

The Americans are insisting on the need for one strongly worded resolution that would trigger military action if Iraq fails to comply with demands for full disclosure of its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and for unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors.

Washington believes Iraq will continue to defy the United Nations unless it is given an incentive to cooperate.

France, for its part, wants the Security Council to pass a first resolution demanding full access for the inspectors. The second resolution would “decide on appropriate measures, without excluding any of them in advance, if Iraq does not cooperate fully with the inspectors,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said Wednesday.

INSPECTORS ON HOLD

Under an agreement reached between the U.N.’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and Iraqi officials earlier this month, inspectors were scheduled to return to Iraq this week.

France wanted inspectors to return “as soon as possible,” Rivasseau told journalists, adding that Paris had not changed its demand for two U.N. resolutions.

“The discussion is continuing in a spirit of wanting to succeed, in a way that we preserve and strengthen the unity of the Security Council, which is essential,” he said.

Blix has declined to order his inspectors back to Iraq until they are empowered by a new resolution, a decision backed Wednesday by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Warning that the world body’s “authority and credibility” will suffer if the council is divided on Iraq, Annan appealed for members to unite not only on a resolution but in achieving a comprehensive solution “that includes the suspension and eventual ending of the sanctions that are causing such hardship for the Iraqi people.”

This is a key demand of the Iraqi government.

Under sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.N. weapons inspectors must certify that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been dismantled.

But inspectors left in December 1998, ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes to punish Iraq for not complying with inspectors, and Saddam’s government barred them from returning — until last month.

‘IRAQ HAS TO COMPLY’

Annan said Iraq’s announcement that inspectors can return without conditions “is a first step, but only a first step.”

“Full compliance remains indispensable, and it has not yet happened,” he said. “Iraq has to comply. ... The inspectors must have unfettered access. This council will expect nothing less. It may well choose to pass a new resolution strengthening the inspectors’ hand, so that there are no weaknesses or ambiguities.”

“I consider that such a step would be appropriate. The new measures must be firm, effective, credible and reasonable. If Iraq fails to make use of this last chance, and defiance continues, the council will have to face its responsibilities,” Annan said.

Linda Fasulo is NBC’s U.N. correspondent. Sean Federico-O’Murchu is an international news producer/editor for MSNBC.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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