U.S. Seeks Right Iraq Formula

Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Taken aback by growing anti-Americanism spawned by the confrontation with Baghdad, the United States is searching for a formula to ensure the broadest possible consensus and coalition if military action is taken to disarm Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

One of several options being studied is a second U.N. resolution that would give Iraq limited time to fully account for its weapons of mass destruction -- or face any action deemed appropriate by individual or collective Security Council members, according to well-placed U.S. and foreign sources. The general time frame under discussion ranges from 30 to 60 days.

The resolution could be proposed before the next reports from U.N. inspectors -- tentatively scheduled for mid-February and early March -- so that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will understand that he must comply, the sources say.

The options are being developed for President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to use during deliberations with allies and other key U.N. members over how to respond to the inspections report released Monday.

"Our preferred option is to get a second resolution to justify the use of force. But what we end up proposing will depend on what we hear in consultations. It will be one of many things that we will discuss. It's not an option that anyone has settled on," said a senior State Department official.

Powell stressed Monday that the United States will be in a listening mode during the consultations, which began while he was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, over the weekend and continued Monday when Bush talked with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The United States hopes to come to a "collective judgment" after deliberations this week with its allies and the Security Council on the best course of action, Powell said. Formal debate will begin Wednesday in New York, followed by talks Friday between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and possibly further discussions next week.

The administration, concerned about the antipathy both at home and abroad toward war without U.N. backing, is keeping an open mind about the options, U.S. officials say.

Powell stressed, however, that time is running short for a decision. The issue, he said, "is not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark. It is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights and come clean. Iraq's time for choosing peaceful disarmament is coming to an end," he told a news conference at the State Department.

The well-placed sources predict that a second resolution is a strong possibility as a compromise to address allied concerns. The four other veto-wielding members of the Security Council as well as other nations critical to a military operation are virtually all calling for more time for the inspections. Each has also repeatedly made clear a strong preference that a second resolution condoning the use of force should be passed before any military action is taken.

"It satisfies our need for a finding of material breach with their need for more time for inspections to work. What it does is put a final end to all of this. They say they want more time. We want to keep this from being an endless extension of the deadline. This is how to satisfy both demands," said a well-placed source who requested anonymity.

The kind of compromise the administration is exploring differs in timing and approach from earlier suggestions about a second resolution. Originally, the United States envisioned a move at the Security Council at the end of an unspecified period of inspections. Such a resolution could declare Baghdad in material breach of Iraq's commitments to the United Nations to disarm and pave the way for military intervention.

The approach now being considered would come at the beginning of a final phase of inspections and stipulate a definite time period -- and approve in advance serious consequences if Baghdad does not comply within it, the well-placed sources say.

They concede, however, that the United States may face further objections and risk a veto if the time period is too short.

Even Britain, which has been the closest U.S. ally on Iraq, may not be able to live with just 30 days. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin last week suggested that Paris would prefer at least another two months of inspections.

And International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday that the nuclear inspections need a few more months.

Powell conceded Monday that there are disagreements among the allies. Some, he noted, are satisfied with "passive cooperation" by Iraq, which he said is in violation of the requirements laid out last November in Resolution 1441.

The problem Washington faces was underscored Monday by France, which said the U.N. report shows that the inspection process is producing results.

With a conspicuous jab at the United States, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We note that Resolution 1441 does not fix a deadline. That is an important point. We also think it is important that the international community remain united at this critical time."

Germany, Greece -- which holds the rotating European Union presidency -- and others in the antiwar camp echoed the French position Monday.

U.S. analysts say Washington has little choice but to give the process at least a bit more time to show good faith.

"To go in alone will be seen as an act of American imperial aggression," said Joseph Wilson, a former senior U.S. envoy in Baghdad and the last American diplomat to hold talks with Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"What the administration wants out of this is to say that it went the extra mile -- at the same time making clear that it will take the next step if inspections don't work."

Although the U.S. wants to have a large coalition of support, it actually doesn't need many military allies, analysts add.

"We can run over Iraq like you walk on a bug," said Pat Lang, a former defense intelligence analyst and Iraq specialist. "But we'll really need support in Iraq after a war when we don't want to go it alone. So begrudgingly, the administration has to allow the inspections to go a few more weeks to gain the support it will need."


Times staff writers Edwin Chen in Washington and Sebastian Rotella in Paris contributed to this report.

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