UNITED NATIONS – U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is proceeding with plans to send an advance team to Iraq this month, but the United States wants a tough new resolution approved before any inspectors arrive in Baghdad.
Blix will brief the divided U.N. Security Council Thursday on his agreement with Iraq for resuming inspections. The closed-door meeting will be the first opportunity for all 15 council members to discuss the deal and the next steps for returning inspectors to Iraq after nearly four years.
While the United States and Britain will demand that no advance party leave for Iraq until the Security Council agrees on a new resolution governing inspections, other council members — including Syria, Mexico and Mauritius — believe the inspectors can start work now under existing resolutions.
Russia, Iraq's closest ally on the council, greeted the U.N.-Iraq agreement ``with satisfaction.'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told ORT television it ``opens prospects for conducting inspections in Iraq.''
Russia opposes a military operation in Iraq and had insisted that no new Security Council resolution was needed. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Wednesday that Moscow was willing to consider whether a new resolution was necessary ``for the efficient work of the inspectors.''
The United States and Britain, however, are demanding much more.
``A new resolution is absolutely essential,'' British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday. ``The harder the international community is, the clearer the message we send, the greater the likelihood of avoiding conflict.''
A toughly worded U.S. draft resolution obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press would give U.N. inspectors broad new powers to hunt for weapons of mass destruction and provide them with military backing to carry out the search.
Under the proposal, the Security Council would give Iraq 30 days to compile a ``complete declaration of all aspects of its program to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.''
If any ``false statements or omissions'' are in that declaration, member states would be authorized to ``use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area'' — diplomatic language permitting military force.
The United States does not want Blix's team to head for Iraq until inspectors have ``new instructions,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.
``The fear here is that Iraq's goal is to engage in a ploy so that they can drag this out before the world as they continue to build up their arms,'' he said.
Blix said last week he could have an advance team of inspectors on the ground Oct. 15 if everything went well at his Vienna, Austria, meeting with the Iraqis. U.N. diplomats said Blix was proceeding with those plans and expects to arrive in Bahrain Oct. 17 and Baghdad Oct. 19.
Blix is in charge of dismantling any chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles Iraq possesses. Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is responsible for nuclear inspections, also will brief the Security Council on Thursday.
A U.S. official said the United States would make ``perfectly clear'' Thursday that Blix needs a new resolution to begin inspections. Blix also has been invited to Washington Friday to meet senior U.S. officials, diplomats said.
But Mauritius' U.N. Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul said, ``As long as we do not have an agreement on a resolution, we feel that there are enough (existing) resolutions which will allow the inspectors to carry out their work,'' he said.
The U.S. proposal has not been submitted formally to the Security Council or even been shown to the majority of its 15 members.
The five veto-wielding council members — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — have held discussions, diplomats said. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
Russia, China and France say they are not ready to authorize force before inspectors have time to test Iraq's willingness to comply.
France has offered a counterproposal giving Iraq a chance to cooperate but warns that ``any serious failure by Iraq to comply with its obligations'' would lead to an immediate Security Council meeting to ``consider any measure to ensure full compliance.''
Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji supports the French proposal.
Nonetheless, U.S. diplomats welcomed signs that Russia, France and China were ready for some compromise empowering the inspectors and hastening a timetable for Iraqi compliance.
In Vienna, Saddam Hussein's special adviser, Gen. Amir Al Sadi, agreed to ``immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access'' to all sites, Blix said, including the Ministry of Defense and Republican Guard facilities. But Saddam's palaces remain exempt from surprise inspections under a 1998 agreement.
The U.S. resolution would end the exemption for those eight sites, encompassing 12 square miles, and establish a U.N. security force to protect the inspectors. The same U.N. security force or the forces of a member state, such as the United States, also would enforce ``no-fly'' and ``no-drive'' zones around inspection sites.
David Albright, an American physicist and former weapons inspector, said he was ``not comfortable at all'' with the idea of an armed force accompanying inspectors.
``If they're not going to cooperate you can't make them cooperate with an armed force,'' he said. ``You can't put a gun to the head of an Iraqi and say tell me the truth.''
Another contentious issue likely will be a U.S. proposal that any of the five permanent Security Council members can send representatives on inspections and receive intelligence reports from inspectors.
The previous U.N. inspections team disbanded at the end of 1998 amid allegations of spying for the United States.