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U.S., France Discuss Compromise, Wording of U.N. Iraq Resolution

By Maggie Farley and Robin Wright

As the United Nations enters a crucial week in its lengthy deliberations over Iraq, Washington and Paris are discussing a compromise that could push the Security Council to agreement.

France and the United States agree that there should be “serious consequences” if Iraq refuses to prove it has disarmed. But they have been deadlocked over what those consequences should be, and who has the authority to decide them. In the compromise, France may grant the United States its desire to have the term “material breach” in a resolution -- which Washington argues would justify military action -- as long as the United States concedes that only the Security Council has the power to decide that Iraq has committed a breach.

France “will accept ‘material breach’ as long as you get the words around them right,” said a council diplomat Monday. “It’s feasible that we could have an agreement this week.”

The latest compromise is still in its early stages, with the United States rejecting France’s Sunday night overture and offering a counterproposal Monday. But they are edging closer after more than six weeks of wrangling over language, sparking optimism in word-weary diplomats.

“We’re doing our best now to come to a solution that will produce unanimity by the council,” said a French envoy. “It’s not clear if we will manage to do it, but there’s no reason to think it’s impossible.”

In the six-week wrangle over language, France’s key concern is not so much Iraq’s disarmament as keeping the United States from acting without United Nations approval, diplomats say. In the sometimes arcane art of diplomacy, these concepts are often boiled down into simple words that are laden with political meaning and precedent.

“It’s dancing on the head of a pin,” another envoy said.