The United States and Britain presented their case for a tougher stand against Iraq, as the United Nations Security Council Thursday wound up a two-day debate on Iraqi disarmament.
The Security Council opened its doors this week to the views of the rest of the U.N. membership on the question of disarming Iraq. The overwhelming sentiment among governments was to try to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully and let U.N. weapons inspectors go back in to finish their job after an absence of nearly four years.
But the ultimate decision of how to deal with Iraq lies with the 15 members of the Security Council and, more to to the point, with the five veto-wielding permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Britain and the United States have been the most skeptical about Saddam Hussein's willingness to give the inspectors free rein inside Iraq as they look for banned weapons of mass destruction. Both want a robust new resolution that would toughen the guidelines for inspections, giving immediate access to all suspected sites, including Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces.
As the Security Council wrangles over the wording of that resolution, and whether it should include the threat to use force if Iraq fails to comply, British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said Iraq may say it accepts the inspections unconditionally. But he warned Iraq has used deceitful tactics in the past and has shown no reason why it should be trusted now.
"We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend the problem does not exist," he said. "We cannot accept the Iraqi government's word at face value, knowing what we know."
U.S. ambassador John Negroponte indicated the United States is just about at the end of its patience with Iraq. He signaled Washington is prepared to give Saddam Hussein one last chance to cooperate, but would not shy away from using force if the inspectors run into any kind of trouble in Iraq.
"Iraq will have a choice. It will have to decide whether to take this last chance to comply," he said. "We hope that it will choose to comply. If it does not, we will seek compliance and disarmament by other means."
France has not dropped its insistence on a two-resolution approach to Iraq. It does not want to threaten military action in the first one, though making it quite clear that consequences would follow if Iraq does not meet U.N. disarmament demands.
Russia at this point appears to be leaning toward the French position, while China, normally opposed to endorsing the use of force, has been more muted in this debate.
Diplomats say the decision will be made in their capitals, where consultations have been intense. In any case, most expect a resolution could surface in New York within the next week or so. Meanwhile, the inspectors are on hold, waiting for new instructions.