VIENNA, Austria - United Nations weapons inspectors said yesterday that they are pushing for completely open access when they search Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and praised their opening negotiations here with Iraqi officials as "positive" and "businesslike."
"The Iraqis were coming here with a desire to reach an agreement," said Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Iraqis turned over what they said were CD-ROMs containing documents they have owed the United Nations since 1998 detailing materials and equipment that could be used to develop weapons.
The positive report from the U.N. negotiators contrasted with the Iraqis' refusal last weekend to accept any new U.N. resolution ordering more-intrusive inspections than were practiced from 1991 to 1998, leaving unclear what any final terms might be. U.N. negotiators are pushing Iraq to accept "anytime, anyplace, any person" inspections without restrictions, said a senior diplomatic official close to the negotiations.
However, the Vienna negotiators are not discussing inspection terms for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's eight presidential palace compounds, which together cover 12 square miles. Winning unrestricted access to those sites is essential to the Bush administration and opposed by Hussein. It will be left to the 15 member nations of the U.N. Security Council to resolve inspection terms for those sites, the diplomatic official said.
Yesterday, which was filled with intense back-room negotiations and developments in several foreign capitals, ended with President Bush struggling to garner world support for his hard-line approach. Debate on resolutions authorizing the possible use of force against Iraq could start as early as today in Congress and this week in the Security Council.
Bush is likely to have little trouble getting his way in Congress, but the United Nations is testing the administration's diplomatic skills on many fronts. France, Russia and China have voiced reservations about authorizing military action against Iraq before a new round of inspections is complete, and all three have veto power on the Security Council.
France reiterated the point anew yesterday, while Russia criticized the occasional U.S. and British bombing of Iraqi targets in "no-fly zones" enforced since 1992 as unhelpful. Although U.N. officials tried to lay the groundwork for new weapons inspections, American diplomats sought to build support for military action if the inspection process fails. U.S. and British diplomats have been trying to persuade them to agree to Washington's approach in private meetings in Paris, Moscow and Beijing. The Bush administration wants a single Security Council vote to authorize unrestricted inspections and force if Iraq fails to comply.
As to the "no-fly zones," U.S. and British aircraft have enforced such areas over northern and southern Iraq to contain Hussein's military since shortly after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference that U.S. and British aircraft were responding to Iraqi anti-aircraft attacks and that it was "nonsensical" for Moscow to criticize the airstrikes but not the firing by Iraqi gunners and missile batteries that provoked them.
He underscored his comments by airing previously secret film from an unmanned Predator spy plane showing Iraqi anti-aircraft guns firing at U.S. aircraft.
Rumsfeld's news conference appeared to be aimed at intensifying pressure on the U.N. Security Council to approve the new resolution Bush seeks. Rumsfeld said Iraqi gunners and missile batteries have fired on allied aircraft 67 times since Sept. 16, when Iraq gave the United Nations a letter agreeing to re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors after a nearly four-year absence.
At the United Nations, the 10 rotating members of the Security Council were briefed yesterday by U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock.
A consistent theme expressed in the meeting was the need for the five permanent members to reach consensus. Another diplomat said that the five permanent members probably would meet today in New York and that the draft resolution would be distributed to diplomats to begin talks on a final version.
If war comes, it will be expensive for U.S. taxpayers, according to new estimates yesterday from the Congressional Budget Office. The war would cost $6 billion to $9 billion a month, the CBO estimates, and once the shooting stops, expenses for an occupation force could range from $1 billion to $4 billion a month, plus up to $7 billion to send U.S. forces back home.