Iraq countdown starts
By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq now faces its first test after a unanimous ultimatum from the United Nations to disarm or confront almost certain war: whether to accept or reject the tough new blueprint for weapons inspections.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to Arab states meeting in Cairo this weekend to 'encourage and urge Iraq to comply' with the tough resolution which the United States wrote and pushed through the council on Friday with an unexpected 15-0 vote.
Under its strict timeline, the clock started ticking immediately giving Iraq until Nov. 15 to accept the resolution which would send U.N. inspectors back to Baghdad after nearly four years with broad new powers to go anywhere at any time backed by the threat of force.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri told The Associated Press his government would study the resolution and take a decision.
On Saturday, the official Iraqi news agency said Iraq is expected to respond within the next few days. In a one-sentence report, INA said that despite the resolution's being 'bad and unjust,' the Iraqi leadership 'will study quietly this resolution and will issue the proper response in the next few days.'
President Bush said the resolution 'presents the Iraqi regime with a final test' and warned that if Saddam Hussein fails to cooperate the United States will not hesitate to take military action to eliminate its suspected nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.
'The opportunity is there and the opportunity is final,' said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, whose country cosponsored the resolution.
The resolution has a built-in compliance schedule and U.S. officials believe they will get an early indication of Iraq's intentions.
'We will all ... be watching extremely carefully for full compliance by the government of Iraq in meeting its obligations under this resolution,' U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said after the council vote.
A U.S. official said if Iraq attaches any conditions to its acceptance, that would be 'a signal.' How forthright it is in its declaration of any illicit weapons programs would be another signal, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Iraq must make such a declaration in 30 days.
The council's approval of the resolution was a diplomatic coup for the Bush administration, crowned by the surprise unanimous vote. That was the result of a last-minute reversal by Syria, which had staunchly opposed the plan during eight weeks of intense international lobbying spearheaded by Washington and London.
U.S. diplomats pushed for support until the final moments before the vote, providing Damascus, Moscow and others with critical assurances: The resolution wouldn't be used to launch war on Iraq, and the Bush administration would work through the United Nations to reach a peaceful settlement to 12 years of international conflict with a derelict Iraq.
Syria's deputy U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said Damascus voted 'yes' after assurances from Washington and Paris 'that this resolution would not be used as a pretext to strike Iraq.' The resolution also reaffirmed 'the central role of the Security Council' and Iraq's sovereignty, key issues for Syria, he said.
France, Russia and China, later issued a joint interpretation of the resolution, stating that it excludes any automatic use of force and that the council would only discuss Iraqi violations reported by weapons inspectors.
U.S. officials could not immediately comment on the joint statement but Negroponte said earlier that countries also had the right to report violations, and that any violation would 'be considered and discussed within the council.'
And he emphasized that the resolution preserved Washington's right to strike if the council appeared lax in the face of any Iraqi violation. The Pentagon, which already has tens of thousands of troops in the region, prepared Friday for a fresh troop call-up.
'This resolution doesn't constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq,' Negroponte said.
But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov declared: 'What is most important is that the resolution deflects the direct threat of war' and opens the road to 'a political diplomatic settlement.'
The resolution places much of the onus on U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to immediately report Iraqi violations. The council would then assess the violations and decide how to respond.
The resolution leaves it up to inspectors to decide what constitutes a violation. Blix says he wouldn't consider minor delays in access to sites or information to be serious breaches.
Blix said the unanimous vote 'strengthens our mandate very much' and announced that an advance team of inspectors will arrive in Baghdad on Nov. 18.
The resolution gives inspectors until Dec. 23 to begin work, though Blix has promised to start earlier.
Iraq, which denies it has weapons of mass destruction, announced Sept. 16 that it would finally allow the unconditional return of inspectors barred since December 1998.
The resolution gives the inspectors sweeping new powers to carry out surprise inspections anywhere in Iraq including Saddam's presidential sites, conduct private interviews with any Iraqi citizen, and seal off swaths of Iraqi territory during inspections.
Blix's teams will concentrate on efforts to expose any biological or chemical weapons while the atomic energy agency searches for signs of a renewed nuclear program.
To prevent a repeat of the cat-and-mouse games Iraq played with inspectors during the 1990s, the resolution threatens Iraq with 'serious consequences,' if it obstructs their work.
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From the AP