UNITED NATIONS -- Seeking U.N. approval for military action against Iraq, the United States, Britain and Spain submitted a resolution to the Security Council Monday declaring that Saddam Hussein has missed “the final opportunity’’ to disarm peacefully.
But France, Russia and Germany, which oppose the war option, circulated an alternative plan to pursue a peaceful disarmament of Iraq over at least the next five months. China said it also supports that proposal.
The rival positions set the stage for a heated battle over whether the council would back the U.S. and British demand for war now or the French, Russian, and German call for war to be “a last resort.’’
Getting approval for the U.S.-backed resolution will be a daunting task. To pass, the resolution must have nine “yes’’ votes and avoid a veto by France, Russia or China. Eleven of the 15 council members want to see U.N. weapons inspections continue; Bulgaria is likely to support the U.S.-British-Spanish plan.
Secretary of State Colin Powell urged China to support the new resolution at meetings with top officials in Beijing on Monday, but the Chinese stood by their long-standing position that U.N. inspections should continue.
The United States has dispatched some of its top negotiators to Security Council capitals in recent days to lobby for the resolution. A new resolution is important for many key allies that face staunch popular opposition to war.
Washington has reserved the right to wage war unilaterally, but U.N. backing would provide legitimacy and financial support for military action and its aftermath. On Monday, Turkey’s Cabinet agreed to host tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops, a key step toward allowing Washington to forge ahead with plans for a northern front against Iraq.
The draft resolution does not set any deadlines. But U.S. and British officials made clear they want the Security Council to vote by mid-March.
The resolution declares that Iraq has failed to take advantage of its last chance to disarm peacefully and therefore must face the “serious consequences’’ the Security Council threatened in Resolution 1441, which was adopted unanimously on Nov. 8.
The new resolution recalls that “Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations’’ under U.N. resolutions.
It also recalls that council decided on Nov. 8 “that false statements or omissions’’ in its 12,000-page declaration to U.N. weapons inspectors “and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of that resolution, would constitute a further material breach.’’
The resolution notes that the council has repeatedly warned Iraq “that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.’’ It also observes that Iraq’s Dec. 7 weapons declaration contained “false statements and omissions.’’
The resolution acts under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, making it militarily enforceable. It does not call for “all necessary means’’ to be used against Iraq.
Instead, its only enforcement paragraph would have the Security Council decide “that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441.’’
French diplomats said the French-German-Russian plan, which includes strengthened U.N. weapons inspections, can be implemented under existing U.N. resolutions and would be submitted as a memorandum.
“The aim is to establish a timetable for Iraq’s disarmament, program by program, relating to weapons of mass destruction,’’ French President Jacques Chirac told reporters in Berlin before talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
“The Security Council must step up its efforts to give a real chance to the peaceful settlement of this crisis,’’ the French, Russian and German paper said.
Despite the stiff resistence in the council, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who walked into the chamber together with the ambassadors of the United States and Spain, formally submitted the resolution on behalf of the three countries at a closed meeting Monday.
“We will be allowing a good period of up to two weeks or maybe a little more before we will ask for a decision,’’ British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels, Belgium. “We want an international consensus.’’
President Bush told U.S. governors earlier Monday that the resolution “spells out what the world has witnessed the last months. The Iraq regime has not disarmed. The Iraqi regime is not disarming as required by last fall’s unanimous vote of the Security Council.’’
He pressed the council to adopt the resolution.
“It’s a moment for this body ... to determine whether or not it’s going to be relevant as the world confronts threats in the 21st century. Is it going to be a body that means what it says? We certainly hope so,’’ Bush said.
The president said the administration will work with the Security Council “in the days ahead’’ on the resolution. He did not set a timetable, though his spokesman said Britain’s calls for a mid-March vote were fine with the president.
Nonetheless, the next six days are critical for Saddam.
Top U.N. inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei say Iraq still isn’t fully cooperating or providing evidence to answer outstanding questions about its nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile programs.
To demonstrate that Iraq is cooperating, Saddam must not only show that Iraq is doing more to answer those questions. He must also comply with Blix’s order to begin destroying all of Iraq’s Al Samoud 2 missiles and the engines and components for them by Saturday.
Iraq has withheld a decision on destroying the missile program, but its chief liaison to the U.N. inspectors, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, said in Baghdad that the government is “serious about solving this.’’
Blix told Associated Press Television News before a meeting Monday of his advisory board: “We have set the date for the commencement of the destruction of these missiles and we expect that to be respected.’’
The chief inspector apparently chose Saturday deliberately: It is also the deadline for his quarterly written report to the Security Council on Iraq’s cooperation and the status of weapons inspections, which resumed in early November after four years.