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Dispute Over Iraq Inspection Timetable Emerges at UN Security Council

U.S. officials are pressing the U.N. Security Council to keep U.N. weapons inspectors on a strict timetable, amid debate over two Security Council resolutions that set out different deadlines for inspectors. The Security Council discussed the issue Thursday.

Resolution 1441, adopted in November, warns of "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to cooperate with inspectors and disarm. It requires chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to report his findings to the Security Council on January 27. The White House says that will be an important part of deciding whether there will be war with Iraq.

But Resolution 1284, passed in 1999, sets out a timetable of quarterly reports to the Security Council. The next one would fall due March 27, 60 days after the U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq resumed.

After two days of discussions, which are continuing in the Security Council, members says both resolutions are valid, and complement each other.

However, speaking to reporters, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte reiterated concern that Iraq is failing to cooperate with inspectors, and cautioned the March deadline to outline remaining disarmament tasks could leave the impression that the process was back to "business as usual."

"We do have some question about whether the 27th of March is the right time to outline the key remaining disarmament tasks of UNMOVIC [U.N. Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission] and to talk about an ongoing verification and monitoring regime, because we believe that could leave the impression that most of the disarmament task had already been accomplished," he said.

British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock says the November resolution that gives Iraq one more chance to disarm or face "serious consequences" contains a sense of urgency that Britain believes cannot be negated.

"If there is still a doubt about Iraqi cooperation on the ground, Resolution 1441 means an increasingly intensive exercise of the inspectors' strengthened rights, and the production of more facts about what is going on in Iraq," he said.

Mr. Greenstock says reports that U.N. weapons inspectors had found 11 empty chemical warheads show that the inspectors are "doing good work," and he expects that work to continue.

Security Council officials say, despite the debate on details of the resolutions, members remain united to pressure Iraq to disarm.