The United States ratcheted up pressure on Russia today to strike a compromise on a proposal to send U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq for the first time in a year.
Unless an agreement on the resumption of inspections is reached in December, officials said, the United States is prepared to walk away from months of negotiations about the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq.
Russian officials, meanwhile, backed away from a reported offer to support the U.S. position on Iraq if the United States would refrain from criticizing Russia's bombardment of Chechnya in the U.N. Security Council.
"There could be no link between Iraq and Chechnya. Those are absolutely different things," said Russia's U.N. envoy, Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov declined to confirm or deny that the offer was made this week by Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at a summit in Istanbul, as reported in today's New York Times. But he complained about leaks in Washington. "It seems that some parts of the administration just cannot hold anything," Lavrov said.
Ambassadors from the five permanent members of the Security Council--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China--have engaged in intensive negotiations this week to try to break the deadlock over Iraq policy.
To allow more time for the talks, the Security Council today approved a two-week extension of the U.N.'s "food-for-oil" program, which allows Iraq to sell crude oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medicine for ordinary Iraqis struggling under the nine-year-old sanctions.
But the talks clearly have exhausted the patience of some of the council's 10 rotating members, who have not been included.
The rotating members cannot simply "sit and wait for the white smoke to emerge" from the gathering of the permanent members, said Peter Van Walsum, the Netherlands' ambassador to the United Nations.
Peter Burleigh, the deputy U.S. representative at the U.N., said the discussions have achieved progress. But other diplomats said negotiators remain far apart.
According to participants, the talks have focused on three main questions: What should trigger the suspension of sanctions, how much independence should a new arms control agency have, and what restrictions should remain on Iraqi trade if sanctions are lifted?
Russia, France and China want sanctions to be suspended quickly if Iraq agrees to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, whose task is to ensure that Iraq has eliminated all of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. But under a draft proposal supported by the United States and Britain, it would take at least 300 days before sanctions could be eased, diplomats said.
The United States and Britain also insist that the director of a new arms inspection team in Iraq have substantial independence from the U.N. Secretariat and employ many members of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which withdrew from Iraq last December and has not been allowed to return. France, China and Russia say that any new commission must be created from scratch and remain under the Secretariat's operational control.