Split opens up on Iraq resolution
MOSCOW, Russia -- A public split has emerged over Iraq as Russia, France and Germany all openly reject the tougher new U.N. draft resolution proposed by the United States and Britain.
On Thursday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said: "Attempts to make the U.N. Security Council subscribe to the automatic use of force against Iraq are unacceptable for us."
He added: "What the British and Americans have presented to us only strengthens us in the correctness of our view that the inspection/monitoring regime in Iraq should be resumed and that a political solution concerning this country is needed without the automatic use of force."
Saltanov spoke the day after French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reaffirmed their opposition to military intervention in Iraq.
The two leaders issued statements on Wednesday after joint talks in Paris, where the recently re-elected Schroeder said: "We defined our position before the election. After the election, nothing has changed."
The split emerged as the five permanent members of the council were being briefed by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on the details of the talks held with Iraqi officials in Vienna at the start of the week over the arrangements for the return of weapons inspectors. (Full story)
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Senate was expected to begin debate on a bipartisan resolution that gives the White House the authority to commit American troops to war with Iraq. (Full story)
Chirac confirmed that France, which like Russia, the UK and U.S. is a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, would reject any resolution seen as paving the way for U.S.-led military action without further U.N. approval.
"We are totally opposed to any resolution that gave as of now an automatic character to military intervention," Chirac said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the international community to stop sending "mixed signals" on Iraq, and said the more united the message, the less likely it was that a strike would be needed.
Speaking on Thursday, Blair said if diplomacy failed, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must be disarmed by force.
"If it doesn't happen peacefully, it will have to happen through military action...he can't avoid disarmament," Blair said.
He added: "The world demands total, unfettered, unobstructed access to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes.
"We need a strong, new United Nations resolution and discussions on that are at an important stage and we continue to work on it.
"The access that we require must include the presidential palaces. It is no good allowing inspectors access to 99 percent of Iraq if the weapons of mass destruction are actually located and stored...in the remaining one percent.
U.S. President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that war with Baghdad could become "unavoidable" if Hussein does not disarm.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the earliest possible settlement of the Iraq crisis "through political and diplomatic methods based on U.N. Security Council resolutions." (Story)
Schroeder, who opposes military action with or without U.N. Security Council approval, was re-elected last month following a campaign using anti-war rhetoric that enraged Washington.
Asked by reporters in Paris if he felt he should apologise to Bush, Schroeder said: "I do not understand the question."
On Iraq, France has placed itself in Europe halfway between Germany and more hawkish Britain.
A French draft resolution puts forward the two-step approach the French favour: allowing inspectors to do their work first and leaving consideration of possible action against Iraq to a later stage.
Earlier this week French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the French daily Le Monde, "We do not want to give carte blanche to military action."
During talks with Blix in Vienna, Iraq agreed to readmit arms inspectors under existing U.N. agreements, possibly within two weeks.(Story)
On Wednesday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has said his country would fight "very effectively" if attacked by the United States.
He said there was no need for a new U.N. resolution to cover the operations of arms inspectors in Iraq. "The Americans are pushing for a belligerent, new resolution which reveals their real intentions," he said. (Story)