Russia on Thursday warned that putting the new U.S. resolution on Iraq to a quick vote would be "counterproductive" and France said it was "very important" to hear whether U.N. weapons inspectors believe they can operate under its provisions.
In a move to spur U.N. action, the United States introduced a seven-page draft resolution to the full 15-member Security Council on Wednesday after six weeks of difficult negotiations by the five veto-wielding permanent members.
The permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — remain divided over language in the U.S. draft which Moscow, Paris and Beijing believe could trigger military action against Iraq, and over tough new rules for inspections.
Whether the United States is prepared to make further changes to meet the concerns of Russia, China and France and avoid a possible veto remains to be seen. Russia appeared to be the main obstacle, rejecting the draft and not ruling out a veto. France, the most vocal opponent of earlier U.S. drafts, was ready to negotiate and wouldn't block the resolution's passage, French diplomats said.
With the White House declaring Wednesday that talks were in their "final moments," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov reiterated Thursday that the latest draft contains provisions which are "impossible to implement" and could "thwart" the work of inspectors.
"Russia is also concerned about some provisions in the revised draft which, albeit camouflaged, could be used to justify the use of force against Iraq," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
"A quick putting of the draft to a vote would be counterproductive," Fedotov warned.
Iraq was on the agenda Thursday when Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
"We have agreed not to speed up voting ... but to continue seeking to converge our positions," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.
But Powell told reporters Wednesday night that despite criticism, the United States will stick to the "basic principles" of its proposal — tough inspections, proof of Iraqi compliance, and ensuring that Iraq faces consequences if Saddam Hussein doesn't comply.
U.S. officials also disputed concerns by Russia and others of a "hidden trigger" in the resolution that would automatically sanction a military attack.
"The real hidden trigger is the absence of a resolution," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that if there is no resolution, there is no other option but military action.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin also said more talks were needed.
"Progress was made in recent days," he told reporters on the margin of a European Union summit in Brussels, but "we still need some clarification."
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said the full council would spend Friday going through the text paragraph by paragraph to give all 15 members a chance to comment. He said the council asked chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency to brief members on Monday to hear their views on the U.S. text.
How important were Blix's views? "For us, very important," Levitte said.
The views of the 10 elected council members are also important because a resolution must receive nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member to be adopted.
The U.S. proposal, drafted with British support, would give U.N. inspectors broad new powers to search for banned weapons and warns Iraq of "serious consequences" if it obstructs their work and fails to meet its disarmament obligations. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said the text "is very clearly intended to be a last chance offer to Iraq."
Russia and France favor a two-stage approach that would give Iraq a chance to cooperate, and only authorize force in a second resolution if Baghdad obstructed inspections.
In remarks to the Arab satellite television broadcaster Al-Jazeera, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri branded the new draft resolution "an insult to the United Nations" and a "pretext to attack Iraq."
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri said Sabri sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan complaining that the United States was trying to block the return of inspectors.
"The resolution means they don't want inspectors to go back to Iraq," Al-Douri said.