Deadline and debate: What's next?

The British bid to set a March 17 deadline for Iraqi compliance capped an intense day of sparring at the United Nations Friday. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei delivered mixed reports about Iraq's level of disarmament. What changed Friday? What impact will the deadline have on the war debate? To help answer these questions, csmonitor.com's Josh Burek spoke with UN correspondent Howard LaFranchi.

csmonitor.com: Did anything change after Friday's Security Council reports?

LaFranchi: It became clear after Hans Blix's report that little changed among the Security Council's 15 members. Mr. Blix emphasized that while disarmament is taking place, Iraq's cooperation continues to be spotty and unsatisfactory, three months after inspections started. That point seemed to catch on with a number of Council members. If anything shifted, it seemed to be this view: that three months after inspections start, Iraq is still dragging its feet on cooperation with weapons inspectors and therefore with the international community that sent them in.

csmonitor.com: Why is Britain pushing for a March 17 deadline for Iraqi compliance?

LaFranchi: It was clear even before Friday's meeting that a new resolution finding that Iraq had not disarmed and indirectly authorizing the use of force was not going to pass. And that still seemed to be true after Blix gave his report. There appears to be little movement among the six countries considered on the fence. Several countries have indicated that they would feel more comfortable concluding that Iraq has failed to comply with the inspections process if there were a clear deadline for Iraq to meet. So by setting a clear deadline, a resolution that would in effect authorize the use of force appears to have a better chance of passage. However, several key countries are still expressing their opposition to any new resolution at this point. France repeated that it is ready to use its veto to stop a new resolution.

csmonitor.com: In the court of world opinion, does Iraq have to prove that war is not necessary, or does the US have to prove it is? Who's winning the battle to shift the burden?

LaFranchi: The debate in the UN has shifted from a focus on Iraq to a much broader question of how to resolve international security issues. On the one hand, countries such as the US say that the biggest threat to international peace and security would be allowing a country like Iraq to think that it could get away with not complying with Security Council demands. Other countries, such as France, Russia, and China argue resorting to force when other means are, in their view, working, constitutes a bigger threat to the international system. As large demonstrations around the world indicate, many people believe that the use of force is a bigger threat to world security.

csmonitor.com: What's next?

LaFranchi: President Bush said Thursday night it was time for countries to "show their cards," and that there are only days left for Saddam Hussein to disarm. But the US willingness to accept the March 17 deadline also indicates an interest in having as broad a coalition of support as possible in what now looks like a likely war. The US interest is not so much in having partners to fight that war, but in having partners to rebuild Iraq after a war. Security Council voting next week about authorization and deadlines probably won't affect Bush's decision on going to war or not. But it will have an impact on the level of international cooperation the US has after a war is fought. I don't think the vote is really about the war itself - I think it's about the postwar period.

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