- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

NEW YORK A short-lived U.N. consensus to draft a tough resolution on Iraq lay in ruins yesterday, while President Bush and other U.S. officials urged Security Council members not to be fooled by Baghdad's offer.
Faced with American determination to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, foreign ministers of Russia, France and Britain had been ready by Monday afternoon to back a resolution authorizing unspecified consequences if Baghdad did not allow the swift return of U.N. weapons inspectors.
But that resolve evaporated yesterday, less than 24 hours after Iraq agreed on an unconditional return of weapons inspectors to its territory.
"From our standpoint we don't need any special resolution," said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at a news conference also attended by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Mr. Ivanov declined to rule out a resolution but, like the French, indicated that his government was no longer as committed to drafting a tough document. China had been expected to abstain on any resolution.
Mr. Bush, visiting a school in Nashville, Tenn., said the council members "must not be fooled" by Saddam Hussein's offer.
"You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're dealing with," he said. "This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world."
The Security Council "must act, must act in a way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled," he said.
The first sign that Iraq may already be backing away from its promise emerged in London, where the Evening Standard newspaper quoted an Arab League official as saying that Iraq would permit inspections only at military, not civilian, sites.
Arab League Ambassador Ali Muhsen Hamid was quoted as saying, "We support [inspections] anywhere, any military site, but not as some people have suggested for inspections against hospitals, against schools."
Western intelligence agencies suspect that some of Saddam's weapons programs have been hidden in such places.
In New York yesterday, the British government remained steadfast in support of the United States, but French officials who had been instrumental in building support for a resolution were noncommittal.
"Different options are open. We will discuss with our Security Council partners what might be needed once the inspectors are to return," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said after the Iraqi announcement.
Mr. Powell said the Bush administration would continue to push for a stringent resolution. "These are issues that have to be discussed now and not at some future time," he said.
He said that such a resolution must identify Iraq's responsibilities such as the return of property stolen during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, as well as the return of prisoners of war set a deadline for compliance, and specify consequences in the event of noncompliance.
But the French appear to favor a more limited resolution, if any, and Mr. Ivanov indicated yesterday that Russia did not share U.S. concerns that Iraq may have revived many of its weapons programs.
"Three or four [inspection] dossiers have been basically closed," he said. He appeared to be referring to missile systems and to the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons areas investigated by the U.N. Special Commission, the previous U.N. weapons regime.
Iraqi officials met chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix for an hour yesterday. Iraqi Foreign Ministry official Said Hassan, a former U.N. ambassador, said afterward that Iraqi technical experts would meet U.N. inspection officials in Vienna in 10 days to discuss inspection details.
Neither side would comment on the discussions, but Mr. Blix is to brief the Security Council tomorrow.
In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it could certify Iraq as free of nuclear weapons within a year if Baghdad cooperates.
"We could start work tomorrow. We have a plan in place, but we need a green light from the Security Council," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
The wavering yesterday in the Security Council is a setback to U.S. plans for a confrontation with Saddam.
Mr. Bush's forceful appearance at the U.N. podium on Thursday, combined with the conviction that Washington was ready to go it alone, had won support in the past week from several European countries.
Saudi Arabia for the first time agreed to allow U.S. forces to use its territory, and the Arab League joined the fold. But all that support was contingent upon a council resolution.
Many Middle East governments yesterday reversed their stances on the need for any such resolution.
"I really believe that after the Iraqi letter accepting [the inspectors] return, I see no need for another Security Council resolution," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher.
"What we should concentrate on is implementing this agreement and making sure they return as soon as possible."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan remained cautiously supportive of a new resolution.
"Let me say that the decision by Iraq to allow the return of the inspectors should be seen as a beginning, not an end," he said.
"Given the history of the past, there are delegations and member states who feel that we should take steps to ensure that the inspectors are able to go about their work unimpeded and with the full cooperation of Iraq."
Bill Sammon contributed to this report in Nashville, Tenn.

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