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Russia, France Attempt to Soften Draft UN Iraq Resolution - 2002-10-25

Russia and France are circulating their own proposals for disarmament in Iraq, hoping to soften a draft resolution presented by the United States. The full U.N. Security Council is consulting behind closed doors Friday in an effort to reach agreement on tougher guidelines for the resumption of weapons inspections after a nearly four-year hiatus.

Six weeks of negotiations have failed to change either Russian or French opposition to a U.S. draft resolution that both governments believe could trigger military action against Iraq. The U.S. text accuses Iraq of a "material breach" of previous U.N. resolutions and warns of "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to meet demands for the full disclosure and dismantling of its programs to produce weapons of mass destruction.

France and Russia want that language out or significantly modified.

Iraq denies it has banned weapons but, under international pressure and a U.S. threat of possible military action, agreed to allow U.N. inspectors back in. The United States, backed by Britain, want to keep the pressure high, saying Baghdad responds only to threats or warnings.

The inspections have been put on hold until the Security Council issues new instructions. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan concedes the political discussions are difficult. But he believes Council members will be able to bridge their differences and come up with a unified position.

"I do expect a Council resolution, and I do expect it to be unanimous," he said. "There's discussions going on and in the end I hope it will be fruitful and that the inspectors will go back to Iraq with the support of a united Council behind them."

The United States does not expect a vote before next week at the earliest. It could take longer. Council members are poring over the U.S. resolution slowly, offering suggestions, and making comments about what is acceptable and what is not. Washington sees growing support for its position. But unless veto-carrying members Russia and France are on board, diplomats say the U.S. draft will not be passed.

Even if France and Russia chose to abstain, which means not participating in a vote, diplomats say their lack of support would send the wrong message to Iraq and weaken the international community's position.