The United States plans to introduce its final proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq by Wednesday and expects a vote on the measure by the end of this week, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
The resolution will be the third U.S. version circulated among the council's five permanent and 10 elected members since early last month. Administration officials said they believed it will address concerns raised by others, particularly France and Russia, on how to determine whether Iraq had violated new weapons inspections demands.
Officials from both those governments said yesterday they were waiting to see the wording before committing themselves to approval. But Mexico, which shares their concerns, said yesterday that agreement could be very close.
"I'm optimistic that a deal can be reached soon," Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda said. His comments followed extended conversations over the past several days with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and a call yesterday morning from President Bush to Mexican President Vicente Fox. "It was important that the two presidents compare notes on all of these conversations to have a sense where each one stood," Castaneda said. "We're very clear on what President Bush's position is."
Bush's senior national security team met yesterday afternoon at the White House to discuss the resolution, which administration officials made clear will be their last attempt at finding common ground within the council. The meeting was attended by Vice President Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Officials said the resolution could be formally introduced today, but that Wednesday was more likely. Passage requires nine of the 15 council votes, and no veto from any of the five permanent members -- France, Russia, China, Britain and the United States.
The administration has turned up pressure on small nations on the council. Mauritius, signatory to a U.S. foreign aid agreement requiring that it not "undermine" U.S. national security interests, withdrew its U.N. ambassador last Friday because he "gave the impression that Mauritius was against the U.S.-drafted resolution on Iraq," Mauritius Foreign Minister Anil Gayan said.
U.N. diplomats estimated Washington now has nine votes, not including France or Russia. China has not publicly committed itself, although its deputy U.N. representative, Zhang Yishan, said yesterday that members agreed "we'd better try to finish the issue as soon as possible." China holds the rotating presidency of the council this month.
French diplomats said they would carefully examine proposed wording for so-called "Operational Paragraph 4." The most recent U.S. version, circulated the week before last, said that Iraqi failure to comply with new U.N. inspections of its weapons of mass destruction programs would automatically constitute a "material breach" of its international obligations.
France, along with Russia, Mexico and others, argued the wording could be interpreted to authorize immediate punitive action, including a U.S. military strike. They insisted that only the Security Council could determine whether an Iraqi "breach" had taken place. Under an earlier U.S. concession, such a determination would then trigger further council consideration of consequences.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to provide details of the final U.S. proposal but said it "has gone a long way to taking into account" the positions of other governments, while still satisfying U.S. "core goals" of delineating Iraqi failure to comply with previous inspection efforts, imposing a tough new inspection regime and making clear there will be serious consequences for future noncompliance.
The administration's promise to move unilaterally against Iraq, if the council fails to act, has been an integral part of its negotiating strategy. At a Republican political rally yesterday in Arkansas, Bush warned that "if the United Nations is incapable of doing its duty, the United States will lead a coalition and disarm [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein." Rumsfeld said last week that "there are any number of countries who have already volunteered assistance," although only Britain and Bulgaria have made public statements of support absent a U.N. mandate.
Administration officials yesterday played down the significance of weekend remarks by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, who said his country would not allow its military facilities to be used as part of an attack on Iraq, with or without U.N. authorization. "There's a lot less there than meets the eye," Boucher said of Faisal's comments in an interview with CNN. Rumsfeld said he hadn't seen the remarks, but that "I don't find it notable in any sense."
The Saudis have previously said they would not allow U.S. aircraft based in Saudi territory to be used in attacks on Iraq. But defense officials said war planners were continuing to assume that U.S. planes could use Saudi airspace and U.S. planes would be able to run the air war from a state-of-the-art command center that opened last year at Prince Sultan Air Base. Backup plans have been drafted should that access be denied.
Staff writers Bradley Graham in Washington and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.