Last-minute diplomatic deals between the United States and its partners on the U.N. Security Council have set the stage for passage Friday of a tough resolution demanding Iraq give up weapons of mass destruction or face possible war.
The United States apparently negotiated a resolution the Security Council can live with. France was the key opponent of earlier U.S. drafts that the French said held hidden triggers allowing Washington to attack Iraq on its own, claiming it had U.N. authorization.
The French signed on after the United States made some revisions in the text.
While the United States reserves the right to use force against Baghdad if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with U.N. demands, Washington has promised to consult with the Security Council before making any moves.
U.N. officials and chief arms inspector Hans Blix are hoping for a unanimous vote, 15 to nothing, to send an unambiguous message to Iraq. China's ambassador Wang Yingfan, who is president of the Security Council, agrees. "The Security Council should and must speak with one voice," said Wang Yingfan. "And only by doing it this way can we send a clear signal to Iraq."
But Russia, another key member of the Council, has expressed reservations about what it calls the "ambiguities" of the U.S. resolution. It remains unclear whether a phone call from President Bush to Russian president Vladimir Putin Thursday managed to bring Moscow on board. If not, diplomats say they would expect Russia to abstain, rather than cast a resolution-killing veto.
The new resolution incorporates a series of timelines. Iraq would have seven days to accept the Council's decision. It would have another 30 days to make a full accounting of its weapons programs. Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors, who have been out of Iraq for almost four years, would have up to 45 days after adoption of the resolution to resume their work, and must report back to the Council two months later on Iraq's performance.
The resolution warns Iraq of serious consequences if it fails to comply with U.N. demands, which include unconditional access to all suspected weapons sites.
The United States agreed to work through the United Nations to force Saddam Hussein to disarm, and has engaged in nearly two months of intense negotiations to work out an acceptable formula. But Washington has made crystal clear that it considers this Iraq's last opportunity to cooperate.