The United States and Britain said Friday they are willing to amend their draft U.N. resolution to give Saddam Hussein a short deadline to fully comply with U.N. inspectors or face being disarmed by force. The proposal, drawing an immediate veto threat from France, followed a report to the Security Council by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
The Security Council session included sharp rhetoric on both sides of the issue of military action against Iraq, and confirmation that a U.S.-British-Spanish draft resolution that would authorize war will be amended to set a March 17 deadline for Saddam Hussein to voluntarily disarm.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw put forward the amendment in Council debate which followed an updated report on Iraqi disarmament by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, four months after approval of Resolution 1441 that ostensibly gave Iraq a "last chance" to disarm.
Mr. Blix reported that Iraq had lately speeded up its disarmament cooperation, noting as significant its decision to begin destroying al-Samoud missiles found to have ranges in excess of U.N. limits.
But Mr. Blix acknowledged that the U.S.-British military buildup in the region may have played a factor and said Iraq's cooperation still fell short of the U.N.'s demands last November.
"It is obvious that while the numerous initiatives which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some long-standing open disarmament issues can be seen as active, or even pro-active, these initiatives three to four months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute immediate cooperation," he said.
In the ensuing Council debate, Secretary of State Colin Powell described the Blix report as a "catalogue of non-cooperation" and said the small steps taken by Baghdad to comply cannot be described as willing support for the inspection process.
He said the United States wanted a vote on the resolution authorizing the use of force sometime next week, and said it would be a test of the Security Council's political credibility.
"Now is the time for the Council to tell Saddam that the clock has not been stopped by his stratagems and machinations," said Mr. Powell. "We believe that the resolution that has been put forward for action by this Council is appropriate, and, in the very near future, we should bring it before this council for a vote. The clock continues to tick, and the consequences of Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to disarm will be very, very real."
Mr. Powell left it to his British counterpart, Mr. Straw, to announce the amendment move, perhaps reflecting a lack of enthusiasm within the Bush administration for giving Iraq more time. Mr. Straw said it "defies experience" to think that continuing inspections with no firm end date will lead to complete disarmament by Iraq.
"I'm asking the Secretariat to circulate an amendment which we are tabling which will specify a further period beyond the adoption of a resolution for Iraq to take the final opportunity for Iraq disarm and to bring themselves into compliance," said Mr. Straw. "But, Mr. president, the Council must send Iraq the clear message that we will resolve this crisis on the United Nations' terms, the terms which the Council established four months ago when we unanimously adopted Resolution 1441."
But France rejected the deadline proposal and threatened to veto the U.S.-backed resolution, even as amended. In his Council address, and a subsequent talk with reporters, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said his government cannot accept an ultimatum as long as the inspectors are reporting cooperation.
"We won't accept this new resolution," he said. "I heard very closely my British colleague expressing the new amendment they have for their resolution. And we've said that we cannot accept any ultimatum, any automatic use of force. They are giving the deadline of the 17 of March, which is ten days. We don't think that we go to war on a time-table."
China and Russia also rejected the idea of another resolution on Iraq but neither made any direct veto threat.
Mr. de Villepin said if the Security Council meets to make a war-or-peace decision on Iraq, it should be convened at the heads of state or government level.
But Secretary of State Powell said the respective government leaders know each others' views on the issue and added he did not see "a particular need" for a summit-level meeting.