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Security Council closer to Iraq compromise

From Liz Neisloss and Ronni Berke

Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan, right, and an aide leave after Wednesday's Security Council discussions.
Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan, right, and an aide leave after Wednesday's Security Council discussions.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council showed signs Wednesday of possible progress toward a compromise on an Iraq resolution among the five veto-holding permanent members.

Diplomats said the next council meeting on the resolution will be when the United States has a new draft resolution to present.

"The ball is now in the U.S. court," one Chinese diplomat said following a council discussion.

"We're making progress," said a U.S. official, who added that a new draft might be ready late in the week. A vote is not likely until next week.

The crucial sticking point between the United States and Britain on one side and France, Russia and China on the other is the reference to Iraq being in "material breach" of its obligations under the new resolution.

The Russia representative told council members his country might be willing to keep the contentious phrase "material breach" in the resolution depending on how it was used.

One potential compromise would be to drop the current U.S. draft reference to "a further material breach" if Iraq failed to comply in any way with the new resolution. References to past and current "material breaches" could possibly remain.

Russia, France and China have worried that the phrase would be used by the United States as a trigger for a military attack on Iraq.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared to contradict U.S. and British assertions that Iraq has chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons and stressed that Moscow did not think a new resolution was legally needed.

Russia and Iraq have a long-standing relationship, but Moscow has demanded that Iraq adhere to U.N. resolutions and allow international weapons inspectors back into the country.

Russia's ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, told reporters that Russia's concern remained "automaticity in the use of force."

French President Jacques Chirac has proposed a two-step approach to Iraq in which the U.N. Security Council would first pass a resolution demanding the return of weapons inspectors.

Under the French proposal, if inspectors were refused access, the Security Council would then consider a second resolution authorizing the use of force.

Chirac has said that France would reject any resolution seen as paving the way for U.S.-led military action without further U.N. approval.

One Western diplomat said France would not mind having tough words in the resolution, but "the problem is the context" in which the words are put.

China has indicated it prefers resolving differences between Iraq and the United States by diplomacy, with the United Nations playing a pivotal role in mediation efforts.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters:

"There is nothing that we propose in this resolution, or we would find acceptable in a resolution, that would handcuff the president of the United States in doing what he feels he must do to defend the United States, defend our people and defend our interests in the world."

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix met Wednesday with U.S. officials in Washington. Blix told CNN the purpose of the meeting was to ensure support for weapons inspectors. (Full Story)

While a future resolution could put pressure on weapons inspectors to report infractions by Iraq, Blix said recently he does not decide "war and peace."

"If there are any obstructions or problems, we will report them," Blix said Wednesday. However, he said "judgment" would have to be exercised by inspectors as to what to report.

He said inspectors could be back in Iraq as soon as a week to 10 days after passage of a resolution.

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