British officials sought urgently yesterday to retool a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war against Iraq after a majority of council members indicated they would not vote for it in its current form, diplomats and Bush administration officials said.
Britain hopes that additions to the resolution, which declares Iraq has failed in its final opportunity to fully and immediately surrender its weapons of mass destruction, will garner nine of the 15 council votes necessary for passage. Diplomats engaged in near round-the-clock negotiations at U.N. headquarters in New York, in visits to capitals and in lengthy telephone consultations. But it was not at all certain that the proposed changes, including an extension of the resolution's March 17 deadline and the addition of "benchmarks" to judge Iraqi disarmament, would win a council majority.
The resolution appeared doomed in any case, as France and Russia, permanent council members with veto power, said yesterday that no revision would satisfy them. "Whatever happens, France will vote no," President Jacques Chirac told reporters in a domestic television interview. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the resolution contains "unfulfillable ultimatum-type demands," and that Russia would vote against it. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believes that even a vetoed resolution, as long as it has a council majority, would help temper strong antiwar opposition in his country. The Bush administration, which has deployed more than 200,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region and is ready to move against Iraq, sees any delay as playing into the hands of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and further undermining flagging U.S. public and political support for an invasion. President Bush said last week that he does not need U.N. permission to go to war.
Yesterday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer continued a line of argument that the administration began to use publicly last week, equating the "coalition of the willing" that Bush has said would join in U.S. military action against Iraq to the United Nations itself.
"If the United Nations fails to act," he said, "that means the United Nations will not be the international body that disarms Saddam Hussein. Another international body will. . . . So this will remain an international action."
Even if the resolution ends up failing because of a permanent member veto, Fleischer said, "from a moral point of view," the world was likely to see U.N. refusal to sanction military intervention in Iraq as akin to U.N. "failures" to stop tribal genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan saw the situation differently, saying at a news conference in The Hague yesterday that the United States lacks the authority to launch a military attack on Iraq. "The [U.N.] charter is very clear on the circumstance under which force can be used," he said. "If the United States and others were to go outside the council to take military action it would not be in conformity with the charter."
Although the administration has gone along with Britain's diplomatic efforts out of recognition of the opposition Blair faces at home, and has agreed to put off a vote it had hoped would take place today, it has made clear there are firm limits on how far the concessions can go and how long discussions should continue. Officials said that Bush wants the resolution brought to a vote this week, and that there is no chance of extending the deadline for final Iraqi compliance more than a week after that, to March 21 at the latest.
As envisioned by the British, the proposed benchmarks would fall into four broad categories of specific actions required of Iraq: arranging a large number of unmonitored interviews of weapons scientists and technicians, preferably outside Iraq; providing substantive information on alleged stores of VX gas in the category of chemical weapons; accounting for all outstanding stores of anthrax in the biological category; and providing all information on prohibited ballistic missiles and remotely piloted aircraft.
"We are examining whether a list of defined tests for Iraqi compliance would be useful in helping the Security Council come to a judgment. What we're proposing is eminently reasonable. We are not expecting Saddam to have disarmed in a week or so," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. "But what we are expecting is that the Iraqi regime should demonstrate by that time the full, unconditional, immediate active cooperation demanded of it by successive U.N. Security Council resolutions."
France and Russia have said they want no deadline at all, charging that the United States and Britain are trying arbitrarily to cut off inspections that seem to be progressing, however slowly. Germany, China and Syria have joined the opposition. Bulgaria is the only other country supporting the resolution sponsors (Spain is the third).
Several of the six council members whose votes are being sought -- Guinea, Angola, Chile, Cameroon, Mexico and Pakistan -- had asked for the benchmarks and said yesterday that they don't object to a deadline. But they said that such a plan would be viable only if it included a post-deadline council meeting to judge whether Iraq had met the benchmark tests. "The normal process would be for [the inspectors] to continue, then come back to the council and say" whether the goals have been met, said a diplomat from one of the six. "Then the council decides."
A British official said, however, that no further collective judgment by the council would be needed, and that London would know Iraqi compliance if it saw it. "We can tell the difference between someone who is genuinely committed and someone who is hanging back," he said. In any case, a senior U.S. official said, the Bush administration would not accept what could amount to yet another council resolution. "I don't think that's going anywhere," the official said.
Meanwhile, the administration seized on a report by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix that inspectors had discovered an undeclared unmanned aircraft in Iraq in order to build its case that Baghdad is flouting U.N. disarmament rules. John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the drone violated U.N. proscriptions on flying range, and that it "would be entirely capable of carrying chemical and biological weapons."
U.S. officials said that Blix had played down the discovery in his inspections update presented to the council last Friday, although the drone was mentioned in his written report. Negroponte raised the issue in a closed-door council meeting attended by Blix yesterday. U.N. officials said that Blix said inspectors were still examining the prototype aircraft and had not concluded that it violated U.N. limits.
As the council headed toward the climactic vote, there was widespread confusion amid the swirl of proposals. "This is a mess," said another diplomat from one of the six. "Nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have been talking, but have no idea what the Americans are thinking. We know that the British have been active, but don't know if their ideas will succeed. The French and others say they accept the benchmarks . . . but don't want 'automaticity.' We say, okay, let's reconvene" the council so that a war decision would not be automatic. "But the Americans would never accept that."
Bush continued his telephone diplomacy, calling Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and President Jiang Zemin of China, another permanent council member opposed to the resolution. Bush also called friendly heads of states, including Japan, Nigeria and Senegal, who are not council members but who senior administration officials said might be able to influence those who are.
Each of the three African members is being bombarded with high-level appeals from the United States and Britain on one side, and France on the other. Guinean Foreign Minister Francois Fall met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at the State Department yesterday and will see Bush at the White House on Wednesday.
On a tour of three African capitals, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin stopped first in the Angolan capital of Luanda yesterday. Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Bernardo de Miranda told reporters, "We are not giving into pressure. . . . Angola's position is closer to neither the U.S. nor to France. It is Angola's position. Angola is for peace but the disarmament of Iraq is a primary question."
Correspondent Sharon LaFraniere in Moscow contributed to this report. Lynch reported from the United Nations.