- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Britain yesterday floated a compromise proposal in a bid to avoid a breakdown in the bitterly divided U.N. Security Council over military action to force Iraq to disarm.

The effort came as foreign ministers from the world's leading powers began gathering in New York to hear a critical progress report today from top U.N. weapons inspectors.

China said yesterday that it sided with France, Russia and Germany in opposing a draft resolution offered by the United States, Britain and Spain that would clear the way for a U.S.-led war against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"The door of peace must not be closed," Chinese President Jiang Zemin told French President Jacques Chirac in a telephone conversation, adding that Beijing supported French efforts to allow weapons inspectors now in Iraq to continue their mission.

Chinese officials did not say they would exercise their veto against the resolution, and a furious global diplomatic lobbying campaign has been waged to obtain the nine votes needed on the 15-nation Security Council for the resolution to pass.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, said in an interview published yesterday that Turkey would wait until the Security Council acts before voting again on a U.S. request for troop access to stage an attack against neighboring Iraq from the north.

Turkey's parliament defied Mr. Erdogan and the country's military leaders last weekend in rejecting the U.S. request, greatly complicating the Pentagon's planning for the campaign.

"Positions are very hard right now," said Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, who pleaded for compromise to avoid a damaging Security Council split.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who will attend the weapons inspectors' briefing today, stepped up pressure on skeptics by warning that a post-Saddam regime in Baghdad may not look kindly on those who refused to help remove the dictator from power.

Mr. Powell said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that the Bush administration would not seek to punish Germany and France, active opponents of the tough U.S. line on Saddam.

But, he added, "it would seem to me that the people of Iraq, having been liberated, might glance around and see who helped in that liberation and who did not."

The openness to changes on the Iraq resolution, confirmed yesterday at the United Nations by British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, was a recognition that support for the initial resolution offered by Britain, Spain and the United States was flagging.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to offer a mixed verdict on Iraqi efforts to disarm.

But Mr. Blix has highlighted recent decisions by Baghdad to eliminate a prohibited class of missiles and allow private interviews with Iraqi military scientists as "significant" steps toward cooperation by Saddam.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the U.N. official charged with monitoring Iraq's nuclear programs, said that "we are making progress."

Mr. ElBaradei, director general of the U.N.-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said the "gist" of his presentation to the council will be that "there's no reason to scuttle the process."

Council members France, Germany, Russia, China and Syria are expected to oppose the resolution, and several of the council's smaller members, including Chile and Cameroon, also have signaled that they would like to see the inspections continue.

Mr. Straw did not detail the changes he was considering, but British diplomats and London newspapers said the amendments could track a Canadian proposal giving Iraq a very short but firm deadline to cooperate fully with U.N. disarmament demands.

The current draft resolution simply declares that Iraq missed its "final opportunity" to comply with the Security Council's November demands, implicitly clearing the way for immediate moves toward the "serious consequences" called for in the first resolution.

"We are ready to discuss the wording of that second resolution and to take on any constructive suggestions as to how the process set out in that draft resolution can be improved," Mr. Straw said.

Mr. Powell did not mention the compromise, and U.S. officials would not comment on the idea. But Mr. Straw told reporters in New York he was confident of backing from Washington.

"I think these suggestions will find fruitful, fertile ground," he said.

Both Washington and London have said they would proceed against Saddam even without U.N. backing. But an authorizing resolution is politically vital for Mr. Blair, with a large majority of British voters saying they would back military action only if it has the Security Council's authorization.

Tensions in the Middle East remain high, as Saddam said in a television address that a U.S.-led war would be "an act of absolute stupidity."

In New York, the United States ordered two U.N.-based Iraqi diplomats to leave the country and asked 60 nations to expel Iraqi diplomats who Americans fear will attack U.S. targets overseas.

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