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Divided U.N. Security Council Issues Severe Warning to Iraq

By Craig Turner and Marc Lacey
Los Angeles Times

The U.N. Security Council unanimously warned Iraq Monday of the "severest consequences" if Baghdad violates the agreement on unrestricted U.N. weapons inspections negotiated last week with Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan SM '72.

Despite the tough language, the long, behind-the-scenes debate that preceded Monday's meeting again exposed fundamental divisions between the United States and most other Security Council members over how to deal with Iraq.

Many council members agreed to vote for the measure only after its two sponsors, Great Britain and Japan, assured them that the warning of "severest consequences" did not imply approval, in advance, of a U.S. airstrike on Baghdad at the first sign of Iraqi noncompliance.

Although much of the debate had an arcane quality - arguing, for example, over whether the wording should be "most severe" or "severest" - it was another reminder to the Clinton administration that few other countries are eager to embrace the U.S. threat of force to get Iraq to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors who are charged with eliminating Baghdad's ability to wage chemical, biological and nuclear war.

The United States is nearly alone, for example, in asserting that existing U.N. resolutions give it the authority to launch an attack on Iraq without a Security Council vote. U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson repeated that contention Monday as he declared the United States "very pleased" with the resolution.

More typical of the majority on the 15-member council was the comment by Fernando Berrocal Soto, Costa Rica's delegate, that most nations oppose anything that could be considered a "blank check" for a U.S. attack on Iraq. Brazilian Ambassador Celsio Luis Nunez Amorim also asserted that only the council as a whole could authorize the use of force against Iraq.

As is often the case here, council members patched over their differences in the interest of maintaining a facade of unanimity. The insertion also of an ambiguous phrase saying the council would continue to monitor the issue "to ensure implementation of this resolution and to secure peace and security in the area" let all sides claim a measure of victory.

British Ambassador John Weston, who with Richardson is the most hawkish member on Iraq, said that phrase meant the Security Council would be scrutinizing Iraqi actions to assure compliance. In contrast, a spokesman for the Chinese, who are generally sympathetic to Iraq, suggested it meant the council would have to vote to confirm any alleged Iraqi violation of the Annan agreement.

The resolution gives a formal endorsement of the accord signed by Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz in Baghdad reinstating weapons inspections to eight "presidential" sites in Iraq that the government in Baghdad had declared off-limits. The pact led the United States and Britain to call off a planned airstrike on Iraq.

In an address to the council Monday, Annan defended the agreement and warned Iraq that it would be responsible for its success or failure. "The government of Iraq must now fulfill, without obstruction or delay, the continuing obligations that it reaffirmed last week at the very highest level," he said. "With today's Security Council resolution the government of Iraq fully understands that if this effort to ensure compliance through negotiation is obstructed, by evasion or deception, as were previous efforts, diplomacy may not have a second chance. "

The blunt warning seemed in part a response to complaints by some Republicans in the U.S. Congress that Annan caved into Iraq in the Baghdad talks.

On Capitol Hill, there continued to be tough talk as lawmakers discussed methods for toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

A prominent Iraqi dissident recommended that the United States openly back the opposition Iraqi National Congress and let it marshal dissent. "The Iraqi people ask you to give us the tools and let us finish the job," said Ahmad Chalabi, president of the opposition group's executive council. "Saddam is the Iraqi people's problem and we are prepared to bear any burden to remove him from power."

He asked for U.S. air cover in setting up opposition zones and access to Iraqi government money frozen in the Persian Gulf War. He criticized the U.S. government for failing to support previous uprisings against Hussein.