US stance on Iraq: a UN compromise now likely

Washington shows signs of softening its demand for a tough, one-step approach.

As horse-trading continues over a proposed new US-British UN resolution that threatens Iraq with force, indications are the Bush administration may be willing to bend.

Washington is pressing for a single resolution, a de facto ultimatum. But with much of the world suspicious of President Bush's motives, opposition has stiffened. China supports France's go-slow approach – first a resolution on resuming weapons inspections, then a second authorizing force if Iraq is uncooperative – and Russia may follow suit.

The draft US resolution – leaked last week – was written in particularly tough language. The UN Security Council meets this week to discuss which demands the US will jettison, versus the "red lines" beyond which it will not yield.

"It's hard to categorize what the red lines will be, but we want a resolution that will give inspectors total access to any site they want, at any time," says a Bush administration official. "And we want a resolution that will basically say to the Iraqis, 'If you continue to violate UN resolutions, there will be a price to be paid.' To date they haven't paid one."

In exchange for unfettered access to all sites, say analysts, the US may be willing to back away from language explicitly calling for consequences yet still leaving the door open for military acton. For example, the US would refer to UN Resolution 687, which marked Iraq's formal surrender after the Gulf War and demanded its full disarmament. It was passed in 1991 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for force to deal with a state deemed the aggressor. The new resolution could likewise make specific reference to Chapter VII.

With the Chapter VII option, perhaps the most important UN demand would be hard deadlines and a full Iraqi declaration of whatever chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons it had or has, says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, who visited in Iraq 1996 as an IAEA inspector.

"From the declaration, it would be obvious to experts if Iraq were willing to comply," says Mr. Albright. "That's why sending in inspectors is a hollow exercise: until you get a declaration or a clear indication that Iraq is going to cooperate and come clean, don't go in. [If you get the declaration] you send in the inspectors, and if you find Iraq is lying, it will be then be legitimate for Bush and whichever allies to take it upon themselves to disarm Iraq."

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is in Vienna this week meeting with Iraqi officials, discussing logistics for when his inspectors will return.

But the quality of the UN inspections is already a concern, says Albright. He criticizes Mr. Blix for appearing to go along with Iraqi insistence that weapons inspectors be accompanied by government officials who will likely inhibit Iraqi scientists from being candid about Iraq's weapons programs. Scientists should be able to speak freely, Albright says, and inspectors ought to administer lie-detector tests if deemed necessary.

Mr. Blix has said he'd like to see an advance team of inspectors land in Baghdad in mid-October. He is expected to brief the Security Council Thursday in New York.

At the UN this week, Russia – who, with the US, Britain, France, and China comprise the permanent, veto-bearing members of the UN Security Council – is balking at any new resolutions.

The US insists that a new resolution is needed to reinvigorate Resolution 687, passed in 1991, and to supercede the weaker, compromise-oriented UN resolutions of 1998 and 1999. Resolution 687 called for the destruction of Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear capabilities, and for routine monitoring.

As Hussein grew more obstinate, the Council's political will weakened, partly by a desire to get back to doing business with Iraq, partly because much of the world grew concerned with the suffering of Iraqis under ongoing sanctions.

In 1996, the UN agreed to make certain "sensitive sites" off-limits to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors. And in 1998, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed to restrict access to eight so-called "presidential sites," reportedly covering some 30 square miles and 1,100 buildings.

Weapons inspectors were pulled out in December 1998 and followed by four days of joint American and British airstrikes.

One year later the Council, trying to re-start inspections, passed Resolution 1284 and replaced UNSCOM with the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), headed by Blix. Critics derided UNMOVIC as "UNSCOM lite" as 1284 now called only for Iraq's "cooperation" with inspectors.

Today, with Hussein's feet once again held to the fire, Iraq contends that Resolution 1284 and the agreements it signed with Annan more than suffice.

But the Bush administration – and some analysts – see it differently.

"Any decision to send inspectors back under the old rules is playing a chump's game and will ultimately end in war, because the US will walk away from it when it fails," says Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The only condition under which Saddam will comply is if he believes the only alternative is a war in which he would lose power – and probably his life."

But given the international opposition, it would be better for the US not get hung up on consequences in a new resolution, says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Again, force was authorized long ago, he says. As Chapter VII states: "The action required to carry out the decisions of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security shall be taken by all the Members of the United Nations or by some of them, as the Security Council may determine."

"The most important thing is to be very explicit in the resolution about the obligations Iraq has to fulfill," says Mr. Clawson. "Then, the notion of compliance will be in the eye of the beholder."

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