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U.S. Has Won Votes Needed For Resolution, Officials Say

By Maggie Farley

Preparing for the endgame on how to confront Iraq, the United States claimed Thursday it has won two key swing votes on the Security Council -- Ireland and Mauritius -- giving it the necessary majority to pass its resolution.

“We’re done,” a U.S. official said. “We are confident that we have a majority, and we are looking to end the diplomatic process next week.”

U.S. officials say they will present a new resolution next week incorporating council members’ suggestions and that they hope to have a vote by the week after next. But they made clear that the United States will reserve the right to take unilateral action against Iraq even without fresh Security Council approval.

“Our bottom line has not changed,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday. “We think it’s time to resolve these differences and it’s time to pass a resolution.”

The announcement is meant to put further pressure on France, the United States’ most vocal challenger in the council on the Iraq issue.

France so far has enjoyed the support of most of the council’s 15 members for its two-stage plan on disarming Iraq, which proposes that the council pass a resolution strengthening the weapons inspections regime but requiring that it would have to meet again to decide on action if Iraq is found to be in “material breach” of U.N. resolutions.

This week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his French and Russian counterparts have been in constant contact, sending phrases from the resolution back and forth to try and reach a compromise. France and Russia have tentatively agreed to include the words “material breach” as long as they do not explicitly authorize automatic use of force. They insist on additional wording that guarantees that the Security Council decides if an attack is warranted, not the United States alone.

But although they are only a few words away from agreement, they are still a world apart, observers say.

“The difference is knowing whether the gun you are pointing is loaded or not,” a council diplomat said. “When the difference is war and peace, you want to know if there is a hidden trigger.”

In weeks of negotiations, both sides say they have made many concessions. The first text the United States floated was so tough, many diplomats said it was “designed to fail.” The latest U.S. version has dropped demands for the use of “all necessary means” against Iraq, among other concessions. The French, in turn, have given up their demand for a second resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, settling instead for a less formal Security Council decision.

The latest U.S. concessions appear to be close enough for Irish diplomats, although they won’t say for sure whether they have signed on to the U.S. side after weeks of waiting in the middle.

“There’s only a phrase or two separating each side -- although small words involve big issues,” said Ireland’s deputy ambassador, Gerard Corr. Ireland has said it wanted the United States to return to the Security Council for approval before taking military action. “The text as it now looks substantially addresses our concerns.”