UNITED NATIONS – President Bush expressed confidence in winning a U.N. Security Council vote Friday morning on a tough Iraq resolution, after the United States reached a critical agreement with France.
While Thursday's agreement offers concessions, it still meets President Bush's demands to toughen inspections and free the United States to take military action if inspectors say Iraq isn't complying.
Bush was confident of victory Thursday, referring to the resolution's adoption as a foregone conclusion. "When this resolution passes, I will be able to say that the United Nations has recognized the threat and now we're going to work together to disarm him."
The breakthrough came after the United States and cosponsor Britain changed the wording in two key provisions to satisfy French and Russian concerns that the resolution could automatically trigger an attack on Iraq.
Hours earlier, French President Jacques Chirac's office confirmed the agreement. French officials said it eliminated "ambiguities" that could be used to trigger an attack, and kept the Security Council as the key body in dealing with the Iraqi issue.
To get French and hopefully Russian support, the United States agreed to change the wording in a key provision that would declare Iraq in "material breach" of its U.N. obligations.
The change addresses concerns by France, Russia, Syria and others that the original wording would have let the United States determine on its own whether Iraq had committed an infraction. Such a determination, France and Russia feared, would have triggered an attack on Saddam.
The new wording requires U.N. weapons inspectors to make an assessment of any Iraqi violations.
Language in another key paragraph was also changed to account for Russian concerns of a second hidden trigger.
After distributing the final text to council members Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said there was "broad support" for the resolution.
While meeting U.S. demands, it also gives Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a last chance to cooperate with weapons inspectors, holds out the possibility of lifting 12-year-old sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and reaffirms the country's sovereignty.
The United States and Britain have been trying to get all 15 Security Council members to approve the new resolution to send a united message to Saddam Hussein — but Syria is likely to abstain, vote "no," or not vote at all.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov wouldn't say how his government will vote. But a U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian President Vladimir Putin conveyed a "positive" message during a conversation with Bush on Thursday, assuring him that the resolution would pass without saying whether Russia would vote "yes" or abstain.
"We have heard the latest amendments," Lavrov said. "We got explanations that neither of the cosponsors interprets the language as containing automatic use of force, and we will be reporting this to our capitals."
Syria had asked for voting to be delayed until after an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo this weekend — and it asked the council again to reconsider the timing of the vote.
Syria had repeatedly opposed any new resolution, but appeared to shift its position earlier Thursday when Syria's deputy U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said Damascus would vote for the resolution if the United States accepted a number of changes on the hidden trigger issue and inspections.
After the U.S. introduced its final revisions late Thursday, however, he expressed disappointment that not all the changes Syria wanted were included. He wouldn't say how Syria will vote, explaining that he would be reporting back to Damascus.
The world body's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said he's confident his team will be back in Iraq soon, after a nearly four-year absence.
He said a resolution supported by all 15 council members "strengthens our hand."
In Iraq, the government-controlled media called the draft resolution a pretext for war and urged the Security Council not to bow to American demands.
"America wants to use this resolution as a pretext and a cover for its aggression on Iraq and the whole Arab nation," the ruling Baath Party newspaper Al-Thawra said Thursday.
According to a strict timeline in the resolution, Iraq would have seven days to accept the resolution's terms. Blix has said an advance team of inspectors would be on the ground within 10 days.
Inspectors would have up to 45 days to actually begin work, and must report to the council 60 days later on Iraq's performance. In the meantime, any Iraqi obstructions or noncompliance would be reported immediately to the council for assessment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.