UNITED NATIONS – The United States, France and Russia are close to an agreement on wording for a single U.N. resolution that would spell out the consequences for Iraq if it refuses to cooperate with weapons inspectors, sources have told Fox News.
Three of the five permanent nations of the U.N. Security Council were said to be discussing new language for the resolution, with Moscow saying for the first time Friday it might agree to military action if Baghdad fails to cooperate with weapons inspections.
The new offer was designed to win support from the three permanent members of the council — France, Russia and China — who want to give Iraq a chance to cooperate with weapons inspectors without the explicit threat of force.
The Bush administration made clear there would be consequences if Iraq fails to comply with returning inspectors, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the president already had the authorization he needed from Congress.
French diplomats were reported to be pleased with the latest U.S. offer, which eliminates the threat of using "all necessary measures" against Iraq. But there remained some concern about other phrases that could trigger military action, such as a reference to Iraq being in "material breach" if it violates any U.N. resolution.
The same legal terminology was used by the United States to take action in Kosovo in 1999 to oust Slobodan Milosevic's forces.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry deputy spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said the new U.S. proposal was the subject of intense negotiations.
"It's not a question today of victory for anyone," she said. "Our objective is to maintain unity within the international community and the Security Council."
The new proposal calls for inspectors to "report immediately to the council any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament," according to excerpts of the new U.S. proposal obtained by The Associated Press.
Once a failure is reported, the Security Council would convene immediately "to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all the relevant council resolutions in order to restore international peace and security."
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States would agree to confer with the council then, but would not feel bound to wait for a council decision before taking action.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said if weapons inspectors encounter obstacles in Iraq, the United Nations could consider passing a resolution authorizing the use of force.
"If the inspectors began to work in Iraq and in the course of this work, problems arise, the inspectors should report what problems have arisen. Then the U.N. Security Council should again consider this issue and decide whether harsher measures, right up to the use of force, are required," Ivanov said at a news conference.
It was the first time Moscow explicitly said it might at some point agree to military action. Ivanov said a day earlier that the new U.S. offer presented "favorable conditions" with which the council could work. But Russia still seemed to be pushing for a two-step approach envisioned by France and favored by many U.N. members.
Intense negotiations on Iraq began five weeks ago when Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly and told skeptical world leaders to confront the "grave and gathering danger" posed by Iraq — or stand aside as the United States acts.
Iraq responded to the escalating threat of U.S. military action by suddenly inviting U.N. weapons inspectors to return after barring them for nearly four years. The inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes punishing Iraq for obstructing their work.
Inspectors must certify that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs have been destroyed before sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the council held a public debate on the Iraq crisis for the first time this year.
More than 60 countries spoke during the debate, with many warning that a new war would add to the suffering of Iraqis and further destabilize the region. Only Britain and Israel endorsed the original U.S. demand.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.