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Iraq Inspections Delayed While U.N. Resolution Debate Continues

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said after briefing the Security Council, ”It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and a new mandate with new changes in directives would arrive.”

Earlier this week, U.N. weapons inspectors and an Iraqi delegation reached a tentative agreement on the immediate return of U.N. inspection teams to assess the state of Saddam’s alleged weapons arsenal. Blix had originally hoped that advance inspector teams could be on the ground in Iraq within two weeks.

Russia, China and France — all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power — have been voicing opposition to the U.S.-backed resolution, which would permit the automatic use of force if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein does not provide weapons inspectors immediate, free and unfettered access to his facilities.

President Bush stepped up his rhetoric on the potential for U.S. unilateral action Thursday, saying that if the U.N. does not approve the U.S. plan, it should stand aside if the U.S. decides to act alone.

“The choice is up [to] the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill his word,” the president told a group of business leaders in Washington. “And if neither of them acts, the United States in deliberate fashion will lead a coalition to take away the world’s worst weapons from one of the world’s worst leaders.”

Russia joined the chorus of opposition to the draft U.S. resolution Thursday, saying the debate was only delaying the return of weapons inspectors under existing resolutions.

“Attempts to make the U.N. Security Council subscribe to automatic use of force against Iraq are unacceptable for us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov told the Interfax news agency.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met in Paris Wednesday to discuss their common position against military intervention, a stance both leaders have maintained throughout the Iraq debate. According to media reports, France may be considering pushing its own U.N. resolution if Washington is unwilling to compromise its stance on use of force.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the French Senate Thursday that the “stakes are crucial” in the Iraq debate and that France opposes any U.S. unilateral action, “because we believe that using force can only be the last resort.”

China is also calling for a political solution to the Iraqi situation, throwing its support to the return of weapons inspectors over the threat of an invasion.

“The top priority at this moment is to let U.N. weapon inspectors return to Iraq as soon as possible and start work smoothly,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told the BBC. “Relevant actions of the Security Council should take this as the aim and be conducive to promoting a political resolution to the Iraqi issue.”

Of the five key Security Council members, only Great Britain has been steadfast in its support of the U.S. stance on Saddam and provided input on the wording of the tough new resolution.

“The world demands total, unfettered, unobstructed access to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday. “We need a strong, new U.N. resolution and discussions on that are at an important stage and we continue to work on it.”

Iraqi officials have indicated that certain presidential palaces may be off limits to arms inspectors, prompting the U.S. and Britain to reiterate their stance that the only way to assure complete and unfettered access to weapons inspectors is to implement the new resolution.

“It is no good allowing inspectors access to 99 percent of Iraq if the weapons of mass destruction are actually located and stored and worked on in the remaining one percent of Iraq,” Blair said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that he hoped the U.N. could agree on a new plan but added that President Bush “is quite willing to do whatever is necessary” to disarm Iraq.

“The discussions [at the United Nations] are intricate, but I am optimistic that we will find a way forward in the Security Council. We must find a way forward, if the Security Council will retain its relevance,” Powell said.

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