The US bowed to almost unanimous international opposition yesterday and offered
to soften its stance on UN weapons inspections by removing language specifically
threatening Iraq with invasion.
The compromise resolution, effectively accepted by Russia but awaiting French
approval today, would threaten serious "consequences" if Saddam Hussein failed
to comply with inspections, in place of an explicit reference to military action.
Diplomats said Washington had also suggested it might drop its earlier insistence
that future weapons inspections should be bolstered by UN troops, and that individual
member states could decide whether UN resolutions had been violated.
If Baghdad failed to comply, the US would consult the UN security council again
before going to war, but it would not necessarily seek a second resolution, as
the French have demanded.
Analysts in Washington said the concessions would therefore not necessarily
upset the military timetable laid down by the Pentagon, which - if there was a
war - would prefer to fight before the desert heat returns to Iraq by March.
France was under pressure last night to agree to the compromise after Russia
signaled it would accept the proposals put forward by the US secretary of state,
Colin Powell. Until yesterday, Paris had insisted on a second security council
resolution authorizing the use of force.
In a defiant speech last night the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, condemned
America's "ugly face" and promised his people he would fight any US attack.
"The scheme of the evil ones can only be ended by confronting them. It is another
test for you," Saddam said in a speech to the revolutionary command council and
the national assembly, which was televised nationally.
His 50-minute address was to mark his referendum victory this week in which
he claimed a 100% support for his continued rule. "I will defend your country
and your honor," he told delegates.
In a rare admission he said other Arab nations would be unlikely to back Iraq
in the event of war with America. "Now it may be very difficult for the Arab regimes
around us to say no to America. The American policy is to make these leaders do
exactly what they want," he said.
News of Washington's concessions came after a day of virtual international
solidarity at the UN against the US-British hardline position on Iraq. At a security
council session on the issue, one delegate after another called for weapons inspectors
to be given another chance to root out Iraq's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction, before any UN member state resorted to military action.
Ivo Daalder, a strategic analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington,
played down the significance of the Bush administration's concessions. "The most
important thing is that the US will get a very tough resolution that will set
new red lines, and once Saddam Hussein crosses those red lines, there will be
a new 'casus belli'," Mr Daalder said.
Under the new US proposal, President Saddam would still have to make a declaration
giving an inventory of his arsenal.
Western officials with knowledge of the security council discussions said that
if that declaration fell far short of the US estimate of Iraq's stockpile of biological
and chemical weapons, and its nuclear program, the US could declare the Baghdad
regime in "material breach" of its obligations and demand UN backing for an attack
even before inspectors went to Iraq.
On the other hand, if the Iraqi leader admitted to a significant number of
weapons of mass destruction, he would undermine his own credibility and strengthen
Washington's hand in pushing for tough inspections.
Either way, the Pentagon could continue to build up forces in the region as
negotiations continue and the Pentagon's timetable which envisages a confrontation
by February, "still stands", Mr Daalder argued.
Diplomats at the UN headquarters in New York said negotiations among the permanent
five members of the security council over a resolution on weapons inspections
were likely to reach a climax by today in the wake of Washington's concessions.
The new US proposal received a significant boost yesterday with the apparent
approval of the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, who said he had discussed
it with the US secretary of state, Colin Powell.
"A new draft of the Anglo-American resolution will take into account the Russian
viewpoint," Mr Ivanov said. "We believe that there are favorable conditions now
to preserve the unity of the global community and ensure the return of international
inspectors and their efficient work in Iraq."
China has drawn back from the negotiations and is not expected to rock the
A western official close to the informal talks said yesterday that all eyes
were on France. "Will Paris recognize a good deal when they see it, or will they
want to carry on pushing their line as is their tendency?" the official said.
If Paris did not agree to a compromise, the same official predicted, the US
would decide that France was "not serious" and either walk out of the talks, or
circulate its version of the draft resolution among the 15 members of the security
council, in the hope of isolating France."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002