U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he thinks U.N. Security Council members are moving closer to an agreement on new resolution returning U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq. He is also signaling U.S. compromise on the key issue of what might trigger military action in the event of Iraqi non-compliance.
For weeks now, the Bush administration has insisted on a single resolution providing tough terms for new inspections and for military action if Iraq failed to comply.
Now however, Mr. Powell says the United States, while still favoring a one-resolution approach, will at least accept a reconvening of the Security Council to debate what to do in the face of Iraqi non-compliance.
Meeting reporters here after talks with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Mr. Powell said if the council failed at that time to authorize a military response, the United States would retain the right to organize its own coalition and move against Iraq.
"There is nothing that we propose in this resolution or that we would find acceptable in a resolution that would handcuff the president of the United States from doing what he feels he must do to defend the United States, to defend our people and defend our interests in the world," said Colin Powell. "But he is also anxious to pursue this matter through the United Nations. He's demonstrated that clearly with his speech on the 12 of September. I think we've demonstrated by the patience we have shown and by our willingness to listen to the view of others over the last six plus weeks. But at no time will the United States foreclose its ability to act in its interests.
The secretary has acknowledged it might take months for U.N. inspectors, once they return to Iraq, to do the work necessary to determine whether or not Saddam Hussein was complying with U.N. demands that it give up weapons of mass destruction.
However, he said this does not necessarily mean that the prospect military action against Iraq has been pushed off into the indefinite future, because early defiance would bring a quick response.
"Once the inspectors go in, it will take some time for them to do their job," he said. "They won't be able to do their job unless Iraq cooperates. And if there is immediate non-cooperation on the part of Iraq, that I think is an absolute red-line, and it has to come back to the council immediately. But it will take some time for the inspectors to do their job. But we have to see whether or not Iraq will cooperate and permit the inspectors to do their job. And during that period, obviously, in execution of such a resolution, the United States and all member nations of the Security Council of the United Nations will watch and see how the inspections are going."
Mr. Powell spent much of the day on the telephone with his counterparts from of other permanent Security Council members including French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose government has been adamantly supporting a two-resolution process in the council.
The scretary predicted a conclusion of the U.N. debate by the end of next week, either with a single compromise resolution, or competing versions the Security Council would have to choose from.
Mr. Powell's late-afternoon meeting with Germany's Mr. Fischer was something of a reconciliation session, following German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's strong criticism of U.S. Iraq policy during his re-election campaign last month.
Mr. Fischer said the election hard feelings were nothing that the two longtime allies cannot overcome. "We have a lot of common issues to discuss," said Joschka Fischer. "We are close allies and I think that if there are differences and turbulences, we will discuss these problems inside the family. Let me stress and let me underline how important the relations between the United States, the relations to the United States, are for the Federal Republic of Germany. And we'll never forget what the United States has done to liberate us from Nazism, to help to build up the German democracy, to defend us during the Cold War, especially Berlin."
President Bush pointedly did not make a congratulatory phone call to Chancellor Schroeder after his center-left coalition's September 22 election win, but the two leaders are expected to meet during the NATO summit next month in Prague.