Nonaligned nations ask Security Council for open meeting

UNITED NATIONS -- Some 130 nations pressing for a peaceful solution in Iraq asked the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to hold an emergency open meeting before it votes on a new resolution that could authorize military action against Saddam Hussein's government.

The move by the Nonaligned Movement, whose members are mainly from developing countries, would put the U.S. and British demands for military authorization under a microscope by shifting what have been closed-door talks into a public format.

Council members supported the request for an open meeting and council president Martin Belinga-Eboutou told members he would set a date after consultations.

Diplomats said the open meeting will not be held Friday, as France wanted, but will likely take place sometime next week. It will definitely be held before the council votes on a new resolution, diplomats said, but it wasn't clear whether it would take place before or after a new resolution is formally introduced to the council.

The five veto-holding members remain divided on key issues and have been meeting privately to thrash out concepts, but diplomats report little progress and no new meeting has been scheduled.

The United States and Britain have circulated a draft that would toughen inspections and authorize the use of force if Iraq doesn't comply with inspectors. France, Russia and China oppose a green light to attack before Iraq has a chance to cooperate, and are supporting a rival French proposal.

"We think it's a good idea to have an open meeting at the right time," U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham said after Thursday's council meeting. He refused to say when that might be.

U.S. spokesman Richard Grenell said the United States always assumed there would be an open debate at the appropriate time.

"I think it will take place next week, open for all members," said Russia's deputy U.N. Ambassador Gennady Gatilov.

"It's a very good thing, because the Security Council, while taking the decisions, should represent the opinions and positions of all members of this organization," he said.

South Africa, the current Nonaligned Movement chairman, sent a letter to the Security Council president saying an emergency meeting is "imperative" so council members can hear the views of the wider United Nations membership before it adopts a resolution.

The resolution, South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo wrote, includes issues "that are of importance to ... the future role of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security."

At an open Security Council meeting, any of the 191 members of the United Nations can speak. Many are likely to use the opportunity to address the issues surrounding Iraq's acceptance of the return of U.N. inspectors after nearly four years -- and the majority are expected to back the French and Russian position.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin reiterated Thursday that the council should first send a message to Saddam to let inspectors do their job "without conditions or restrictions."

"We do not think that it is necessary to resort to the use of force at this first resolution," he said.