UNITED NATIONS – Britain and the United States, bracing for a heated debate on Iraq at the United Nations, will push ahead this week with a new resolution seeking authority to disarm Saddam Hussein forcefully, diplomats from the two allies said Monday.
Despite fresh threats by France and others to oppose the measure, the resolution likely will be circulated Wednesday after two days of open debate designed mostly to voice opposition to the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock met Monday afternoon to discuss next steps, including the content and timing of a second resolution, a British diplomat said.
On Monday, a compromise reached among the 15 members of the European Union, bitterly divided over Iraq, could influence negotiations over a new resolution inside the council.
At a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, the European leaders agreed to a joint statement for more time for U.N. weapons inspectors while warning Baghdad it faced one "last chance" to disarm peacefully.
Both Washington and London believe previous U.N. resolutions give them the authorization they need to launch a military strike. But others disagree, arguing that acting without the authority of a new resolution would mean waging war without the support of the international community.
Diplomats at the United Nations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they expected Security Council negotiations on the draft resolution to be wrapped up by the time chief weapons inspector Hans Blix delivers his next report March 1.
Blix's upcoming assessment will be delivered as a written report to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council. The report then will become an official U.N. document and be made public, but without the fanfare of a televised appearance before a council chamber stacked with foreign ministers, as happened last week.
Blix's counterpart, Mohamed ElBaradei, in charge of investigating Iraq's nuclear program, is not scheduled to issue another report until April 11, long after Washington and London hope to secure Security Council support for a new resolution.
Officials in both capitals spent the weekend reworking what was supposed to be a very tough, punchy resolution. Diplomats said the final text will place Iraq in material breach of its obligations and reiterate that Saddam now faces serious consequences.
But it likely will not make an explicit call to arms.
The other options include issuing Saddam an ultimatum to relinquish power or meet a set of conditions within a tight deadline, council diplomats said.
National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice said Sunday that the wording of a new draft was not finished. But in her talk show appearances, Rice repeatedly said Saddam has weeks, not months, to disarm or face a military strike.
Still, the weak support for war inside the council was even shakier after last week's reports from inspectors and a weekend of anti-war demonstrations around the globe.
French President Jacques Chirac said Monday his country would oppose any effort to draft a new U.N. resolution to explicitly authorize war against Iraq at this time.
"There is no need for a second resolution today, which France would have no choice but to oppose," Chirac said while arriving in Brussels, Belgium, for a crucial European Union summit dominated by the Iraq crisis.
France, Russia and China -- all opposed to war now -- could veto any resolution. The three council powers are pushing to prevent a war and continue weapons inspections even as the United States insists that time has run out for Saddam to disarm peacefully.
Blix's Friday report was a boon for the French position and a blow to the administration, which had hoped for a stinging rebuke of Baghdad's cooperation.
Blix offered tempered criticism and some praise for recent Iraqi moves, including the passing of legislation outlawing weapons of mass destruction and approval for inspectors to use reconnaissance aircraft. Inspectors also have recently interviewed a handful of Iraqi scientists believed to have knowledge of Baghdad's weapons programs.
However, it remains unclear how Blix will handle findings by an expert panel that a new Iraqi missile system exceeds range limits set by the Security Council. According to their mandate, inspectors are to "destroy, remove or render harmless" any weaponry violating U.N. resolutions.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected inspectors to destroy Iraq's new al-Samoud rockets. Blix made no commitments in his report other than to share the findings with officials in Baghdad.
Tuesday's open debate in the Security Council on Iraq was scheduled at the request of South Africa, which represents a large group of nonaligned and virulently anti-war nations that want a chance to publicly air opposition to the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.