Warily, UN set to back US

The UN Security Council is likely to vote Friday on a new Iraq resolution.

The United Nations Security Council looks set to approve a tough new resolution for inspections of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.

UN approval would suggest that the international community is now reassured that the United States is not simply using the world body as a fig leaf for waging war with Iraq – and is resigned that it has gotten as much out of the global superpower as it can.

The 15-member Security Council is expected to vote as early as Friday on a slightly revised resolution that the US and Britain submitted Wednesday.

The new resolution maintains key US demands, US officials say. It continues to describe Iraq in "material breach" of a decade of previous UN resolutions, a diplomatic term that traditionally has been used to justify war. The resolution gives Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm, and gives UN inspections teams a mandate to reenter Iraq. But the resolution also calls for weapons inspectors to return to the Security Council to report on any failure of Iraq to fulfill its disarmament obligations, a stipulation that reassures nervous countries that the US will not commence bombing Baghdad at the first pretext.

This resolution "more explicitly gives Iraq a last chance to comply," says a European diplomat at the UN, adding that "we expect it to be good enough for French support."

The resolution, expected now to pass with near unanimity and having avoided the veto of permanent Council members, is seen as a diplomatic graying of what in earlier versions were clearer statements of American intent. The resolution may sound less like a declaration of war, experts say, but they doubt it signals any change in US intent.

There is international resignation, say analysts, that worried countries got as much cooperation as they could from the US. "This [UN process] says that President Bush became persuaded that getting UN support behind the US is crucial, but I think other countries realize this doesn't deflect [the US] from it's desire to get rid of" Saddam Hussein, says Richard Stoll, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston.

"The rest of the world knows what's going to happen, but they still want the US to justify taking military action. I think they've decided they've got some indication the US is willing to do that."

The six weeks since Bush's Sept. 12 UN speech have reassured the world that what the US is seeking "is not a resolution for war," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday.

While that sense of reassurance – or what some might call resignation – may explain what appears to be a Council shift to support what the Bush administration calls a "tweaked" resolution text, the coming months will show whether the world correctly interpreted America's intent.

The jury is still out on whether this six weeks of multilateral negotiations -- by a global superpower that has worried the world that it is intent on going it alone in the world – signifies an America more anchored than some thought in the international community.

"This is a dot, and we'd need a few more dots to make a line," says Joseph Cirincione, head of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Was this just a diplomatic tactic to get the president what he wants, or is it a strategic shift to multilateralism? It's too early to tell."

Others say the US has given up none of its penchant towards unilateral action in dealing with Iraq. "Part of me wants to believe the US is not just using the international community and has decided to work together with it for important long-term strategic reasons, but I suspect this is basically a PR gimmick," says Hurst Hannum, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass. "The US continues to maintain that it has the unilateral right to strike Iraq."

If the resolution passes with near unanimity Friday, all members of the council, in true diplomatic style, will be able to declare they won something – even if the result does not appear to have significantly altered the likelihood of war.

France and Russia can claim what they most wanted – that the US bent to its demands that America must return to the international body before going to war. That partially meets international concerns about what has looked like a warmongering US.

But US analysts point out that the administration, while gaining the semblance of an international cloak – underpinned by genuine global concerns about Mr. Hussein's weapons – has not given up much. The resolution still contains "triggers" the US can cite for justifying resorting to war. But before that – in the event of Iraqi obstruction or deception – the French will have the opportunity to weigh in again.

But the second resolution the French had wanted will not be required, and as Powell says, the US will not be "handcuffed."

"The US hasn't lost anything here," says Mr. Cirincione. "While the talking has proceeded, they've continued to prepare for war. The timeline as far as the White House sees it is still fine."

• Michael Jordan at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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