- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

NEW YORK Russia said for the first time yesterday that it may back the use of force against Iraq if it refuses to cooperate with U.N. inspectors to eliminate its chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs.

"If the inspectors began to work in Iraq and in the course of this work, problems arise, the inspectors should report what problems have arisen," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Moscow.

"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."

His remarks provided the clearest indication yet that Moscow was leaning toward the acceptance of the use of force against Iraq as a last resort. The United States and France are locked in a dispute over whether the council needs to specifically authorize the use of force if renewed inspections fail to solve the problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The issue has deadlocked the council for weeks.

The standoff between the United States and France continued at the council yesterday, behind closed doors, with both nations eager to quash any suggestions of acrimony.

"I believe we are progressing," French President Jacques Chirac told reporters during a visit to Beirut. "The final decision is not yet made. A final accord has not been concluded yet."

The United States backed by Britain is seeking the council's approval to attack Iraq if it fails to surrender its weapons of mass destruction, which it fears will fall into the hands of Muslim terrorists or be used to threaten Israel.

France, Russia and China want the Security Council to have the final say on whether to attack Iraq.

Council diplomats said yesterday that they did not anticipate a meeting of the five key members until Washington and Paris narrow their differences, perhaps as early as next week.

A new team of U.N. weapons inspectors, to replace ones ordered out by Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein four years ago, is waiting for the Security Council to pass a resolution before returning to Baghdad.

U.S. officials rewrote two paragraphs of their draft resolution on Thursday, agreeing to consult with the council before beginning military action, but not tying the use of force to a council vote.

The Americans also dropped the unpopular demand that council members be allowed to send their own enforcers on every inspection foray into Iraq.

"I think we are comfortable with what we're doing in terms of reaching agreement on a resolution that achieves our goals, that keeps the United Nations in the picture, but that also retains for the president his full authority to do what's necessary for our national security," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

He said the language is consistent with a recently passed congressional authorization for Mr. Bush to use force against Iraq.

The French want two separate resolutions: the first to demand full cooperation with weapons inspectors, and a second to authorize the use of force, if it refuses.

Washington wants a single, comprehensive resolution that would include language threatening "severe consequences" if Iraq fails to cooperate.

The latest U.S. proposal, which is circulating informally, appears to lay on the shoulders of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix the primary responsibility for determining whether Iraq is in compliance.

Mr. Blix is the head of a new U.N. inspection team that is waiting for a new Security Council resolution before returning.

"Blix would report to the council and the council, we hope, would try to deal with the problem," said Mr. Boucher. "Our preference is that the Security Council take action if Iraq doesn't comply."

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