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France Sees 'Progress' in Iraq Talks

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France sees ‘progress’ in Iraq talks

At the U.N., France has led opposition to U.S. proposals for a resolution calling for military action if Iraq does not accede to inspection demands.

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 18 — U.N. talks on Iraq were “making progress” Friday, said French President Jacques Chirac, signaling that key Security Council members may resolve a month-long stalemate on a resolution dealing with Iraq’s alleged buildup of weapons of mass destruction. France has led the opposition to initial U.S. proposals calling for immediate use of force against Iraq if Baghdad does not meet demands for weapons inspections.

THE UNITED STATES has now softened its position, saying it would give the Security Council a chance to react first if arms inspectors ruled that Iraq was obstructing them.

“I believe we are progressing,” Chirac told RFI radio during a visit to Beirut.

“What I don’t want in this matter is that it is described as a clash ... that’s not the issue,” Chirac said. “There’s no opposition between the French thesis and the American thesis.

There’s simply a French affirmation of what it believes to be international law and common sense.”

According to various diplomatic sources, no agreement was likely until at least next week because the leaders of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council needed more time to hash out the wording of a new resolution.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported earlier that France remained dissatisfied with part of the compromise text offered by the United States.

Although Washington has dropped its demand on an explicit trigger for military action if Baghdad fails to comply with disarmament demands, France remained wary of any threat before Iraq has a chance to prove its willingness to grant weapons inspectors full access to its installations.

U.S. diplomats insist on the need for only one resolution, instead of France’s desire for two.

But, according to Mitchell, the U.S. text will suggest that the Security Council convene immediately if inspectors report difficulties or failure by Iraq to cooperate.

The language will not say that a second U.N. vote is necessary, although it won’t rule it out, a strategy aimed at appeasing both sides.

“It’s not a question today of victory for anyone,” said Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, a deputy spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry. “Our objective is to maintain unity within the international community and the Security Council.”

The U.S. compromise was drawn up with the help of its close ally Britain. It was aimed at winning support from France, Russia and China, the other three of the five members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power.

A LAST RESORT?

Chirac, in Beirut, Lebanon, for a summit of French-speaking nations, said earlier Friday that war should be considered only if diplomacy fails.

“In the modern world, the resort to force should only be the last and exceptional resort,” Chirac said at the opening of the summit.

War “will not be accepted except in the case of legitimate defense or by the decision of international authorities,” he said.

French officials have said many times that Paris opposes military action by Washington without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

While France does not exclude the use of military force against Iraq, it would not be the only option even in the second stage of its two-step proposal, just a last resort.

French diplomats were reported to be pleased with the elimination of the reference to “all necessary measures” but were concerned about other phrases that could trigger military action, such as a reference to Iraq being in “material breach” if it violates any U.N. resolution.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Thursday that “material breach” could be interpreted as allowing for consequences and was used by the United States to take military action in Kosovo in 1999 to oust Slobodan Milosevic’s forces.

The White House official insisted that the U.S. compromise would give President Bush “maximum flexibility” to mete out consequences should Saddam not comply — and a second resolution would not be needed for Bush to act against Iraq.

RUSSIA WEIGHS IN

For its part, Russia suggested it was ready to support the United States. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday that Moscow would support a scenario in which the Security Council could pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if weapons inspectors run into problems.

“If the inspectors began to work in Iraq and in the course of this work problems appear, the inspectors should report what problems have arisen. Then the U.N. Security Council should again consider this issue and decide whether harsher measures, right up to the use of force, are required,” Ivanov said at a news conference in Moscow.

A proposal to that effect is being put forward by the United States. It calls for inspectors to “report immediately to the council any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament,” according to excerpts of the new U.S. proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

If a failure is reported, the Security Council would convene immediately “to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all the relevant council resolutions in order to restore international peace and security.”

‘GATHERING DANGER’

The crisis began five weeks ago when Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly and told skeptical world leaders to confront the “grave and gathering danger” posed by Iraq — or stand aside as the United States acts.

Iraq responded to the escalating threat of U.S. military action by suddenly inviting U.N. weapons inspectors to return after barring them for nearly four years. The inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes punishing Iraq for obstructing their work.

Inspectors must certify that Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs have been destroyed before sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted.

The standoff among the five permanent, veto-wielding members has dragged on for weeks behind closed doors. On Wednesday and Thursday, the council held a public debate on the Iraq crisis for the first time.

More than 60 countries spoke during the debate, which was requested by the Non-Aligned Movement comprising 115 mainly developing countries pressing for a peaceful solution.

Ambassadors from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America warned that a new war would add to the suffering of Iraqis, possibly engulf the Middle East and have dire consequences for global stability. With the exception of Britain and Israel, they refused to endorse the original U.S. demand.

NBC’s Linda Fasulo at the United Nations and Andrea Mitchell in Washington, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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