Iraq's official news agency today said President Saddam Hussein's government would "calmly" study a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Friday that requires the nation to disarm and mandates stringent weapons inspections.
In a one-sentence report, the government-run Iraq News Agency quoted an unnamed official source as saying the country would issue a formal response to the resolution in the next few days. The source was quoted as calling the resolution "bad and unjust," but said, "the leadership of Iraq is studying it calmly and will take the necessary decision."
The influential Babel newspaper, which is owned by Hussein's son Uday, was even more explicit in an editorial today, saying that "Iraq has nothing to conceal, and U.N. weapons inspectors are welcome."
Diplomats and political observers said the news agency report and the editorial suggest that Hussein's government appears willing to accede to the terms of the new resolution, potentially staving off a military confrontation with the United States.
Whether a U.S. attack will be averted or merely forestalled by Iraq's acceptance of the resolution depends on whether the Iraqi government will provide inspectors with full access to Hussein's presidential palaces and other sensitive sites that Western officials believe may contain evidence of the country's suspected illicit weapons programs. Some diplomats said Iraq might agree to the resolution but seek to raise objections when the inspectors begin their work.
On Monday, Hussein dropped his first hint that he might be willing to comply with a new resolution, apparently reversing his insistence that any inspections would have to occur under existing arrangements with the United Nations that limited inspectors' access to palaces and other sites. He was quoted by state-run television as saying that "if a resolution is issued that respects the U.N. Charter, international law and Iraq's sovereignty, security and independence, and does not provide a cover for America's ill intentions, we will look into whether we will deal with it."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sought today to cast Friday's U.N. resolution as something other than a diplomatic victory for the Bush administration. Pointing out that France, Russia and China had objected to Washington's initial desire for authority to use military force in the event Iraq failed to comply, Sabri said, "America's aggressive goal of using the Security Council as a cover for an aggression on Iraq was thwarted by the international community."
Speaking in Cairo after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Sabri said Iraq hoped to receive a strong show of support at a two-day Arab League meeting that began late tonight. U.S. threats toward Iraq, he said, don't "only threaten Iraq's security, but the security of Arab states."
But Arab diplomats and other officials involved in the meeting said Iraq would face intense pressure -- though much of it likely in private -- to agree to the terms of the U.N. resolution. A senior Egyptian official said that even if there is no official statement calling for Iraq's acquiescence, Iraq "will receive a clear message that compliance is the right thing to do."
"Most Arab governments will be delivering this message," the official said. "Nobody wants to see a war."
Arab officials said today that several Arab League member states agreed with Syria's decision to vote in support of the resolution. Syria is the only Arab nation that holds one of the Security Council's rotating seats.
A senior Syrian government spokeswoman, Bouthaina Shaaban, said today the decision was made "in consultation with other Arab nations and the secretary general of the Arab League."
"We had their support," she said.
Syria's intentions were not known to U.S. officials until just a few minutes before the vote. It had been widely expected in Washington that the Syrian government, which had wanted the vote delayed until Monday to allow the Arab League time to discuss the resolution, would abstain.
Although Syria participated in the international military coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, the two nations have developed close economic and diplomatic ties in recent years. During a visit last month to Damascus, the Syrian capital, Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, called Syria the only Arab nation not to have abandoned Iraq.
The vote to support the resolution even took people in Syria by surprise. "Nobody was expecting this," said Nabil Saman, a journalist in Damascus.
Shaaban said Syria opted to vote for the resolution after receiving messages from France and Russia as well as a telephone call from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell assuring Syrian officials that the United States would not use the resolution as a pretext to attack Iraq.
Although Syria had wanted changes in the resolution aimed at lifting economic sanctions on Iraq, Syrian diplomats concluded that they likely would be unsuccessful in extracting any further concessions. They eventually came to view the revised U.S.-British resolution as an "acceptable compromise," Shaaban said.
Syrian political observers said officials also concluded that abstaining would have made Syria appear out of tune with the world.