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Security Council Remains Divided Over Iraq

After meeting in closed session Thursday, the U.N. Security Council remains divided over how to deal with the Iraq crisis. The council is split over a resolution sponsored by Britain, the United States and Spain, that could pave the way for military action against Iraq if Baghdad fails to disarm.

Several hours of closed door discussions Thursday did nothing to close the gap between Britain, the United States and Spain - who all believe the time is quickly approaching when Iraq will have to be disarmed by force and a majority of Security Council members who are either undecided - or want inspections to continue, perhaps months more. Some diplomats describe a terrible atmosphere in the council with debate ending in bitter disagreement.

France's U.N. ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere left the council saying he still wants to know why there can be no other option but war.

"In the council, the majority of the members think that the time has not come to decide to go to war," he said.

France along with Germany, China and Russia, all want to give inspectors as much as four more months to hunt for Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction. But the draft resolution put forward by the United States, Britain and Spain calls on the Security Council to conclude Iraq has lost its last chance to disarm voluntarily and must face the consequences.

In what could be a positive development, weapons inspectors say Baghdad has now agreed in principle to U.N. demands to destroy its arsenal of short range al-Samoud 2 missiles.

Still British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock left the Security Council debate with a reminder that all of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix's previous reports about Iraqi disarmament stop short of showing full cooperation by Baghdad.

"Is that happening? No. The Inspectors have not reported on a single occasion that there's been that kind of progress," he said.

In an effort to close the gap between both sides, Canada is now suggesting a compromise calling for inspections to run through the end of March before any decision is made about using force. Countries including Chile and Mexico which are undecided about the use of force, suggested they could support that even though the Bush administration has already dismissed it as procrastination.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to submit another report to the Security Council by Saturday. His spokesman says this report will be similar to previous ones that have given Baghdad mixed reviews on disarmament. If so, both sides in the Iraqi debate are likely to seize on it, to support their arguments for either giving weapons inspectors more time or for concluding that time for inspections has run out and that military force remains the only option.