- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) — The U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked on Iraq Friday despite chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's update. The chief U.N. weapons inspector reported increased cooperation from the Iraqis, but did little to change the members' respective positions.

Ten of the 15 foreign ministers in the council voiced the same strong support for strengthening and continuing the inspections as they had at last week's session.

But Britain, Spain and Pakistan remained supportive of the United States in calling for an end to inspections and moving to what U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called "serious consequences" unless Saddam Hussein destroys the stockpile of weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration says he has.

Bulgaria, which had earlier supported the Bush administration's hard-line approach, now appeared to support continued inspections, but was replaced in the U.S. "camp" by the African republic of Guinea.

Observers feared the council session would widen the gulf between the two factions, bringing a U.S.-led war on Iraq, not sanctioned by the United Nations, closer to reality.

Both sides found justification for their views in the same information from Blix, and from the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei.

Advocates of continuing the inspections argued that Blix said Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors had improved, and some weapons scientists had been interviewed without Iraqi supervisors present.

Iraq had also withdrawn its opposition to aerial surveillance, and Blix said Mirage reconnaissance planes from France and drones supplied by Germany soon would be in operation to support the ground inspections.

ElBaradei told the council that just as the session was opening the Iraqis had announced a presidential decree barring Iraqi nationals and companies from working on or importing weapons of mass destruction.

But opponents of continued inspections said the reports only served to underline Iraq's failure to comply fully with U.N. Resolution 1441. The resolution authorized the return of the weapons inspectors to Iraq for the first time since 1998, and called on Saddam Hussein to disarm.

Powell said Resolution 1441 was "not about compliance, but about disarmament," but Saddam had "continued his efforts to deceive, to deny … to throw us off the track."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw quoted Blix's own admission that the weapons inspection would be completed more quickly, "if the immediate cooperation of the Iraqis would be more forthcoming."

France, China, and Russia — all three permanent members of the Security Council with veto power — lead the pro-negotiations group.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin argued that Blix's report meant that "We are still in the framework of Resolution 1441." The inspections had made "significant gains," and should be allowed to continue.

The question, he said, was "Do we believe in all conscience that the inspections have reached a dead end? What is at stake here is war and peace."

De Villepin — who received an almost unprecedented round of applause from the packed chamber for his remarks — is the author of a plan for beefing up the inspections process, including tripling the number of inspectors, using planes for aerial surveillance, and appointing a U.N. resident weapons representative in Baghdad.

But observers said the United States — which also has veto power — has dismissed the French suggestions, insisting that Saddam must come clean of his own accord. Powell hinted at as much when he said Friday, "More inspectors — sorry, it's not the answer."

The aim of United States is a second resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq does not comply — though officials have said they will act even without one.

But de Villepin sent a message to Washington through reporters Friday that makes the passing of a resolution very uncertain. "We don't need at this stage a (second) resolution," de Villepin said. "If there is a failure in the inspections then we will have another session."

Observers noted that the session has been further complicated by the Security Council's decision — responding to a request from African countries — to hear the views of all 181 member states, starting Tuesday.

Though not all member states will want to address the council, U.N. officials said the session could stretch on until Thursday. Meanwhile a further inspections report by Blix is already scheduled for March 1. On Friday a further report was requested for March 14.

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