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U.S. may be softening on Iraq compromise at U.N.

From Elise Labott (CNN Washington)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to speed the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, the Bush administration has softened its position on a compromise approach involving two U.N. Security Council resolutions, State Department officials told CNN on Friday.

The news of a potential compromise came hours before the chief U.N. weapons inspector was to meet with U.S. officials in Washington.

On Thursday, Hans Blix suggested he might delay the return of his inspectors until the Security Council passed a new resolution.

The compromise, two-step approach would eliminate the section calling for a threat of force from the U.S.-British draft resolution now circulating among Security Council members.

Dropping this language would represent a major concession to Russia, China and France, which oppose including the threat of force in any resolution passed prior to the inspectors' return to Iraq.

CNN reported this week that State Department officials were drafting two resolutions in the event the United States and Britain couldn't persuade the Security Council to pass its proposed draft that contains the threat of force.

Under this compromise approach, an initial resolution would find Iraq in "material breach" of prior U.N. resolutions and would spell out what it needed to do to get back into compliance.

If Iraq failed to cooperate with inspectors, a follow-up resolution would leave no doubt that all five permanent members of the Security Council would then support using "all means necessary" against Iraq to force it to disarm, two State Department officials said.

"There are people now saying, 'What would be the big deal for two resolutions if we can get the inspectors in fast,'" one official said, adding officials are crafting "compromise wording."

But officials stressed that the Bush administration still would prefer one resolution that would include the threat to use "any means necessary" if Iraq does not cooperate with inspectors.

Senior State Department officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will urge Blix "not to take no for an answer" from Iraq when he comes to the State Department on Friday.

The meeting is scheduled at 4:45 p.m. EDT (2045 GMT).

The Security Council met on Thursday with Blix, who indicated inspectors might delay their return as the council debates the question.

"It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate, with new, changed directives were to arise," Blix said.

Powell has said inspectors should not return to Iraq without a resolution in hand.

State Department officials said they were encouraged by comments made by Blix after the meeting that indicated a new Security Council resolution could tie up "loose ends," such as conditions governing the inspection of presidential palaces.

A senior State Department official said Powell will press Blix on his readiness and ability to conduct inspections.

"Our interests are making it as tough as possible as quickly as possible," another State Department official said, reiterating the Bush administration's skepticism that Saddam will cooperate fully with the U.N. weapons inspectors.



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