UNITED NATIONS – Bucking an anti-war mood among their U.N. Security Council partners, the United States and Britain began crafting a toughly worded resolution Wednesday that would narrow the timetable for Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections and authorize force if Iraq fails to cooperate, diplomats said.
The two allies plan to complete and circulate the draft next week to the three other permanent members of the Security Council -- France, Russia and China -- diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. France, Russia and Arab nations oppose a new resolution.
"Nothing is on paper yet," said Rick Grennel, spokesman for the U.S. mission at the United Nations, who confirmed American and British diplomats met on a resolution.
Iraq's surprise announcement this week that it would accept the return of international weapons inspectors nearly four years after they left has divided the council, with the United States stepping up preparations for war even as weapons inspectors planned their return to Baghdad.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress that it should authorize the use of military force against Iraq before the Security Council makes a move.
"No terrorist state poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
President Bush, also speaking Wednesday, said Iraq would not "fool anybody" with its about-face and predicted the United Nations would rally behind the United States despite Iraq's "ploy." His administration disclosed plans for moving B-2 bombers closer to Baghdad, preparing for possible war to remove President Saddam Hussein.
But at the United Nations, U.S. allies on the Security Council seemed determined to stave-off a resolution as plans moved ahead for the return of weapons inspectors.
"We hope that this step ... will be the first step toward a comprehensive solution to the crisis in the relations between the United Nations and Iraq and the lifting of the brutal regime of sanctions which has been killing our people for 12 years," Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said late Wednesday after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In a statement, Annan said that Sabri had pledged his government's full cooperation on finalizing arrangements for the swift return of inspectors.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he saw no need for another resolution on Iraq. But in Moscow Wednesday, Vladimir Lukin, a deputy speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, who once served as Russia's ambassador to the United States, said Russia would likely compromise.
"We are certainly against that, but, being realistic, we understand that the United States would get something anyway," Lukin said.
French diplomats said they were opposed to any resolution that provided Washington with a "green light" to use military force and that they saw no need to replace a resolution drafted primarily by the United States in December 1999.
The existing resolution gives inspectors 60 days from the time they begin work on the ground to give the council a work program. Once the council approves the program and the inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency become fully operational, Iraq will need to cooperate and comply for a 120-day period. If it does, the council will be asked to suspend sanctions for 120 days, a period which could be renewed as long as the Iraqis continue to cooperate.
Western diplomats said the U.S.-British draft would lay out a tighter timetable to get Iraqi compliance and include new instructions for weapons inspectors. That could alter a deal Annan cut with the Iraqis in 1998 placing conditions on inspections of eight so-called "presidential sites." The deal was a sore spot for the previous inspection team, which was disbanded in December 1998 amid allegations that some members were spying for the United States.
But ambassadors said it was important to give chief weapons inspector Hans Blix time to do his job.
"We should concentrate on the return of Blix to Iraq. Two days after, if Blix says they're not cooperating, then we can take action. Right now, we don't see any need," said Mauritius' U.N. Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul.
Blix, who is in charge of dismantling Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them, has scheduled talks with Iraqi experts in Vienna, Austria, to work out details for the inspectors' return. The arrangements should be completed by Oct. 6.
Arab diplomats, who led the campaign to get Saddam's government to allow the inspectors back, also oppose another resolution.
"We don't see any need for a resolution after the measures taken by the Iraq government," Syria's deputy ambassador, Faysal Mekdad, said Wednesday.
Sanctions were imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and cannot be fully lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that the country's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed.
Inspectors worked toward that goal from 1991-1998, until they left in December 1998, complaining that Iraq was refusing to cooperate. The departure was followed by four days of punishing U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq.