UNITED NATIONS -- Seeking to win a new U.N. resolution on Iraq, the United States has removed language explicitly threatening military action, while making clear Baghdad will face consequences if it fails to cooperate with weapons inspectors, diplomats and U.S. officials said Thursday.
The latest compromise appeared tailored to win support from powerful Security Council members including France and Russia, which want to give Iraq a chance to cooperate before authorizing force.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proposed resolution wouldn't spell out the consequences but says Iraq's President Saddam Hussein will be in "material breach" if he violates any U.N. resolution.
That term, material breach, allowed for military action to be taken in Kosovo in 1999. The official said that since no measures would be ruled out in the text, the White House believes President Bush would have "maximum flexibility" to mete out consequences should Saddam fail to comply.
Moreover, the official said the new U.S. proposal doesn't require a second resolution before Bush acts.
But diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if the Iraqis obstructed inspections, the United States would be required to consult with the Security Council before taking any action.
'Must be threat'
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix in New York Thursday, said a U.S.-drafted resolution would leave "no opportunity for the Iraqis to deter the inspectors from their work or to defeat their efforts.
"There must be a threat," Powell said. "There must be consequences for their continued failure."
The five permanent veto-wielding council members have been badly divided on the next move toward Iraq following its announcement last month that U.N. inspectors could return unconditionally after nearly four years.
Earlier this month, the United States, supported by Britain, circulated a draft resolution that would beef up the inspections regime and authorize military action if Iraq fails to cooperate.
France, backed by Russia and China, agreed that inspections needed to be overhauled but wanted a two-stage approach which would give Iraq the opportunity to comply without threats. If Iraq refused to cooperate, a second resolution would OK force.
U.S. officials argue the French approach leaves Saddam with too much wiggle room and isn't tough enough to reverse 11 years of Iraqi noncompliance with council resolutions.
But French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte told the Security Council on Thursday that France was sticking to its demand. Only if a first resolution fails would the 15-member council meet to consider "the appropriate measures to take without ruling out anything," he said.
Powell spoke by telephone with his French counterpart, and officials in Paris were studying the latest U.S. offer amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at solving the impasse among the Security Council powers.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov welcomed the new U.S. proposal and said Powell told him it would be formally presented to the council within days.
"We believe that there are favorable conditions now to preserve the unity of the global community and ensure the return of international inspectors and their efficient work in Iraq," Ivanov said in Moscow.