The Bush administration is claiming a major diplomatic victory with Friday's unanimous Security Council resolution to send U.N. weapons inspectors back to Iraq. But the process required nearly eight weeks of painstaking negotiations and entailed some concessions by Washington.
The United States had originally sought an all-purpose single resolution that sent the inspectors back to Iraq and authorized the use of "all necessary means" against Saddam Hussein if he again defied the will of the international community.
What emerged after the weeks of bargaining in the Council was a single resolution, but one which at the urging of France and Russia, among others, would reconvene the Security Council for further discussions in the event Iraq was again uncooperative.
In remarks following the conclusive vote, the American U.N. ambassador John Negroponte stressed that the measure does not provide for the automatic use of force, which had been an implicit U.S. goal at the start of the process. "This resolution contains no hidden triggers and no automaticity with respect to the use of force," he said. "If there is a further Iraqi breach reported to the council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA, or a member state, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12. The resolution makes clear that any Iraqi failure to comply is unacceptable, and Iraq must be disarmed."
However, administration officials say their assent to the reconvening of the Council in the face of Iraqi resistance does not limit United States' power to act. In his remarks at the White House following the vote, President Bush said Saddam Hussein must submit to "any and all" inspection methods with "prompt and unconditional" cooperation, or he will face "the severest consequences:" "America will be making only one determination: is Iraq meeting the terms of the Security Council resolution, or not? The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council. But without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country. If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein," said president Bush.
The resolution gives Iraq seven days from its adoption to confirm its acceptance of the terms of the resolution and 30 days to declare what weapons of mass destruction and related materials it has in its possession. U.N. inspectors are to resume their work in Iraq after a four-year interruption within 45 days. But the chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix says he intends to go to Baghdad in little more than a week to begin the task of restoring the inspections mission. "It requires the cooperation of Iraq," said Hans Blix. "They will have to submit the declaration within 30 days of their programs of weapons of mass destruction, also programs in the peaceful sector. And we are very pleased that the resolution was adopted by unanimity. That strengthens our mandate very much. Secondly as to the timetable, yes we are planning to do to Baghdad on Monday the 18th of this month. So it will be within the seven to 10 days that we have at hand."
Secretary of State Colin Powell led the U.S. negotiating effort with intensive telephone diplomacy, climaxed Thursday by a critical agreement with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. France had been holding out for a two-stage process in which any military move against Iraq would have had to be authorized by a second council resolution.
But French concerns were assuaged by the U.S. commitment to return to the Council to discuss any Iraqi resistance to inspections. France's U.N. ambassador Jean David Levitte said he is satisfied the resolution that finally emerged upholds the United Nations' authority. "It seems to us that today, the Security Council role has been strengthened," he said. "The U.N. role has been strengthened. The mandate given to the inspectors we hoped for has been strengthened. And all-in-all, it is great success, and a success for everybody. Now comes the time for implementing this resolution. And the very fact that the members of the council were unanimous in their vote sends a very strong message to Iraq, the Iraq leadership. We hope for full implementation of this resolution and that is our message today."
The major surprise in Friday's Council vote was the support of the resolution by Syria, which had argued that no new resolution was needed and that the whole process was biased in that no pressure was being put on Israel to comply with resolutions concerning the Palestinians.
Officials here speculate Syria may have acted to strengthen the Arab hand in future Council deliberations on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and possibly also because it recognized that Saddam Hussein's political position is eroding.
In his remarks, President Bush hailed the courage and "principled stand" of council members. But he said they must retain their unity and sense of purpose so that Baghdad cannot return to the tactics of "obstruction and deception" that it successfully used in the past.