France Is Set to Offer UN Its Own Resolution on Iraq


By Elaine Sciolino

New York Times
October 27, 2002

In a bold diplomatic challenge to the United States, France announced today that it might formally introduce its own resolution on disarming Iraq at the United Nations Security Council.

In a radio interview, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin emphasized that France was willing to use the draft resolution formally presented to the Council by the United States on Wednesday as a basis for an agreement among the 15 members.

But if consensus cannot be reached on the American draft, which France and Russia believe gives the United States too much leeway to start a war without further Council approval, then France would offer a competing resolution.

"We are going to try to work with the Americans on the basis of the text they have proposed," Mr. de Villepin said. "If we don't manage that, then we will obviously officially propose our own text."

Underscoring the fluid nature of the diplomacy, one senior French official said today that American diplomats were already indicating a willingness to make substantive changes in the their draft.

Asked about that assertion, United States officials pointed to comments by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell indicating that language that could provide the basis for military action remains indispensable.

"We've been very clear on having a tough resolution, and we are not backing down," one official said.

Mr. de Villepin's comments, in an interview with Europe 1 radio, raise the pressure in what has been a nail-biting exercise in diplomacy between Washington and Paris.

On Friday, the United States pressed for rapid approval of the resolution. American diplomats added to the pressure on the Council by threatening to call for a vote on the measure at any time, adding that Washington was not prepared to consider major changes to the draft or formally discuss anyone else's draft.

United Nations procedures can be complicated, and by formally and publicly introducing a resolution, instead of keeping it in the corridors where it can be discussed in private, the United States was clearly signaling its Council partners that it had taken the lead.

France and Russia responded by presenting their own "informal" texts, which are not considered official United Nations documents. Early in the week, French officials assured the United States that they did not intend to compete by formally introducing a different text.

But France and Russia say the American resolution is deeply flawed and has too many ambiguous references that would give the United States too much leeway to go to war.

France has also been concerned that the United States might try to force a vote on the American resolution, putting Paris in the position of perhaps having to abstain or even use its veto. The last time France vetoed an American resolution at the United Nations was over the Suez crisis in 1956, and it is determined not to be faced with having to decide to vote against the United States on such a crucial matter.

In the radio interview, Mr. de Villepin said, "There is still work to be done, progress to be made, and we have said so to our American friends for weeks." He also said France wanted a unanimous vote in the Council "to send a clear and strong message" to Iraq, adding that for France the use of force cannot be automatic and is only a last resort.

"We are convinced that if everyone concentrates on the main objective — disarmament, the return of the inspectors — there is a strong chance, and the document which we have prepared demonstrates this, of a unanimous vote in the Security Council," Mr. de Villepin said.

American officials have said the resolution must ensure that United Nations inspectors gain complete access to any sites they choose as well as to Iraqi experts and documents. It must also refer to Iraq's "material breach" of past Council resolutions, the officials said.

The French version does not mention Iraq's "material breach." France considers the phrase a "hidden trigger" that could permit the United States to cite any new Iraqi violations of United Nations demands as justification for war without approval by the Council.

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