UNITED NATIONS – Despite high-level negotiations, the United States and Britain were at odds Monday with France, Russia and China over a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing military action against Iraq if it fails to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.
France has led opposition to giving the Bush administration a green light, instead favoring two U.N. resolutions -- a first toughening U.N. inspections and a second authorizing action against Iraq if it fails to comply.
In a move to placate France, U.S. diplomats last week offered to remove a threat to use "all necessary means" if Saddam Hussein doesn't cooperate. France objected because the new U.S. proposal would still threaten "serious consequences" if Iraq remained defiant, which U.S. officials said was enough for Washington to attack if necessary.
On Monday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reaffirmed Paris' opposition to unilateral U.S. military action and urged the Bush administration to "remain faithful to the vision of collective security that rests on the law."
"America seems tempted by the solitude of power," he told the Institute for National Defense Studies, a think tank in Paris. "We cannot accept an intervention that is not a last resort, the final resort."
There is intense concern among U.N. diplomats that the premiere institution for dealing with international peace and security -- the U.N. Security Council -- will be undermined by any unilateral U.S. action against Iraq.
Ministers from the five permanent veto-wielding Security Council nations -- the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain -- were continuing consultations, as were their U.N. ambassadors. But diplomats reported no breakthrough.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte met France's U.N. Ambassador John David Levitte, and on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to hold talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the administration's closest ally, in Washington.
"We're continuing to make progress," a U.S. official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told the General Assembly on Monday that the United Nations "must rise to the challenge on Iraq's repeated violations of international law."
"To do this, we have to give the U.N. inspectors the strongest powers possible to ensure successful disarmament and to make it crystal clear to Iraq that this time, it is complete disarmament or serious consequences," he said.
But council diplomats said Monday they did not believe the United States and Britain have enough support in the 15-member Security Council for a resolution that would give a green light for the use of force in Iraq. To win approval, a resolution must get nine "yes" votes and must not be vetoed by a permanent member.
Diplomats said they believe a U.S. resolution with any language that could authorize force would likely be opposed by France, Russia, China, Syria, Ireland, Mexico, Cameroon, Guinea and probably Mauritius -- which means it would get a maximum of only six or seven "yes" votes.
Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "The member states want a two-stage approach: Send in the inspectors, and if they get into trouble, if it fails, come back and we will pass the second resolution."