U.S. reshapes U.N. resolution on Iraq

? 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 appears 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 states that 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 1999 in Kosovo. The official said that because 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 didn’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.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Thursday in New York, 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 that would give Iraq the opportunity to comply without threats. If Iraq refused to do so, a second resolution would authorize force.