U.N. Gives Iraq ‘Final’ Chance/ Resolution Warns Regime of ‘Serious Consequences’ if It Fails to Disarm
The Security Council voted unanimously Friday to give Iraq “a final opportunity” to disarm or face “serious consequences,” bolstering the role of the United Nations in the world and rewarding the United States’ willingness to engage it.
The show of international unity sent a strong message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that he is without allies if he continues to defy the United Nations, ambassadors said. And the consensus was hailed as a striking endorsement of the U.S. decision to work through the council on a crucial issue instead of going around it.
“To the government of Iraq, our message is simple,” U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said after the vote. “Noncompliance is no longer an option. To our colleagues on the council, our message is one of partnership.”
But in the White House Rose Garden moments after the vote, President Bush emphasized Washington’s freedom to act alone if necessary, threatening Iraq with “the severest consequences” if it fails to comply with the new resolution.
The 15-0 result was a surprise after nearly two months of intense negotiations. The day before the vote, a last-minute compromise on language to ensure that the U.S. would not use the resolution as a pretext for military force clinched the support of France, China, Mexico and Ireland.
But Russia’s vote wasn’t confirmed until an early-morning phone call Friday from Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and Negroponte only learned the Syrian diplomat’s intentions as they walked into the Security Council chamber together for the vote on U.N. Resolution 1441.
Iraq now has seven days to confirm its compliance with the resolution, and 23 more days to come up with a full declaration of any weapons of mass destruction and missiles used to deliver them. The Security Council will grant Baghdad a little more time to catalog “dual-use” material used in its petrochemical industry.
The resolution states that weapons inspectors will begin their work within 45 days and make their first report to the council 60 days after they begin -- although they may report infractions at any time. Chief inspector Hans Blix said he and an advance team would be in Baghdad on Nov. 18.
Patient and painstaking diplomacy, bolstered by a dose of “creative ambiguity,” allowed all sides to claim victory Friday. The resolution links but doesn’t chain Washington to the Security Council, reflecting France’s insistence that any determination that Iraq has violated its obligations be made by the council, not the U.S. alone. But it doesn’t force the U.S. to wait for a second Security Council resolution before launching military action against Iraq.
“The outcome of the current crisis is already determined. The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq will occur. They only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how,” Bush said in his Rose Garden comments. “The United States prefers that Iraq meets its obligations voluntarily, yet we are prepared for the alternative. In either case, the just demands of the world will be met.”
Bush also had praise for the U.N. “Members of the council acted with courage and took a principled stand,” he said. “The United Nations has shown the kind of international leadership promised by its charter and required by our times.”
But the same ambiguity that allowed a compromise also foreshadows trouble to come. In the same breath they lauded the council’s consensus, several ambassadors noted their different interpretations of the resolution.
Addressing the central disagreement of whether the document simply establishes the legal groundwork for a U.S.-led war or is the best means to avoid it, Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser insisted, “The use of force is subject to the prior and explicit authorization of the Security Council.”
Three of the council’s permanent members -- France, China and Russia -- felt compelled to issue a joint declaration after the vote, putting on record their understanding of the resolution and the U.S. and British pledges that it does not contain provisions for the automatic use of force.
The three also took issue with the U.S assertion that any council member can judge that Iraq has violated the resolution and ask the council to consider the consequences. They insist that only the weapons inspectors have the authority to report a possible breach.
Initial Iraqi reaction came from Ambassador Mohammed Douri, who spoke immediately after the vote. “Iraq will certainly study the resolution and decide whether we can accept it or not,” he said. During the negotiations, he and other Iraqi officials repeatedly characterized the resolution as a “a blueprint for war.”
Fulfilling one of Washington’s core demands, the new resolution declares that Iraq remains in “material breach” of past U.N. resolutions requiring disarmament -- a key legal term that can be used to justify military action. It threatens to consider “serious consequences” -- understood to mean the use of force -- if Iraq is found in further material breach.
The resolution is designed to disarm Iraq through inspections, said British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, the document’s co-sponsor, and is not meant to set tripwires to spark a war. To that end, it strengthens an inspection regime that has failed in the past. Weapons inspectors left the country in 1998, and Iraq has blocked their entry since.
“Not a shadow of a doubt remained that Iraq had defied the United Nations for the past 11 years -- the U.N. will no longer tolerate this defiance,” Greenstock said.
“We could not afford to have inspectors standing by helplessly while crucial documents are burnt or while convoys leave from the back doors as inspectors arrive in the front,” he said. “We could not afford interviews compromised by intimidating minders.”
The document contains an elaborate description of the terms of inspection, giving inspectors the authority to demand “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access” to any site in Iraq, including presidential compounds that had been protected by special agreements in the past that made surprise inspections impossible.
It retains controversial provisions to take Iraqi scientists and their families out of the country for interviews in order to avoid intimidation by government “minders,” but chief inspector Blix has questioned the practicality of doing so.
All over the world, reaction to the long-awaited resolution was swift and strong.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had risked his political fortune by standing up in support of Bush despite broad British opposition to unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq, was clearly delighted by the outcome.
“Saddam must now make his choice,” Blair told reporters at 10 Downing St., his residence. “My message to him is this: Disarm, or you face force. Be under no doubt whatsoever of that.
“Cooperate fully, and we will be just with you,” he added.
Echoing some of the phrases Bush delivered at the White House on Friday, Blair said, “Conflict is not inevitable, but disarmament is.”
Israel’s new foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, supported for the resolution and congratulated Bush for “leading this initiative,” the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement. Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the current government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believes that an Iraqi strike against Israel is likely if the U.S. attacks Iraq.
In northern Kurdistan, which has been a self-ruled enclave since 1991, Iraqi opposition leaders were both pleased and worried about the resolution.
There is concern that the U.N. might succeed in disarming Hussein -- but leave him in power.
“One option is that this man abandons his weapons of mass destruction totally and absolutely--and remains in power,” said Sami Abdurrahman, deputy prime minister of the northern sector ruled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party. “The other option is that he keeps his weapons of mass destruction and then loses his head. And unfortunately, Saddam is a survivor.”
Others predicted that the U.N. disarmament effort is destined to fail.
“Baghdad can’t be disarmed, and you can’t guarantee Baghdad will remain disarmed for five or 10 years, unless there is a democracy in place,” said Fawzi Hariri, a top Kurdistan Democratic Party advisor.
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The time frame for inspections
The U.N. Security Council approval of the U.S.-proposed resolution on Iraq creates this time frame for inspections:
* Iraq must accept the terms and pledge to comply before Nov. 15.
* It must declare all aspects of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs before Dec. 8.
* U.N. inspectors must resume their inspections in Iraq before Dec. 23.
* U.N. inspectors must report to the Security Council 60 days after starting work. The last day to report is Feb. 21.
Times staff writers Robin Wright in Irbil, northern Iraq, and Laura King in Jerusalem contributed to this report.