UNITED NATIONS - In a troubling sign for U.S. efforts to push a tough new Iraq resolution through the Security Council, Russia and France said yesterday that they weren't satisfied with a revised draft that warns Baghdad of "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate with weapons inspections.
The five permanent members of the 15-seat council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, each of which can veto any resolution - discussed the new U.S. text for the first time at a three-hour meeting yesterday, with Paris and Moscow concerned that the draft could be used by Washington to launch an attack on Iraq.
Another meeting was scheduled last night.
"The American draft resolution ... does not answer the criteria which the Russian side laid out earlier and which it confirms today," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted as telling Russian journalists after meeting with Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, in Moscow.
France also expressed disappointment with the latest U.S. offer.
"There is still a lot of work to do," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday in Luxembourg. "There are some points that need to be discussed among us before we have an accord."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said negotiations were likely to be complicated and messy. But he dismissed Ivanov's statement, saying: "We think these discussions are moving forward."
Calling the talks among the five permanent members "professional [and] businesslike," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said: "We're all meeting with the idea of trying to reach a consensus and a common view on how to go forward on this matter. I think you have to allow the negotiating process a little bit of time."
France, backed by Russia and China, wants to give Iraq another chance to meet its U.N. disarmament obligations.
It favors a two-stage approach that would give Iraq a chance to comply and authorize force only in a second resolution if Baghdad obstructed inspections.
The new U.S. proposal, drafted with British support, is a single resolution that Washington says will allow the use of force if Saddam Hussein fails to cooperate.
It includes phrases that could be interpreted as triggering military action, wording that has raised disagreement from the French and Russians.
"If the United Nations can't make its mind up, if Saddam Hussein won't disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him for the sake of peace," he said.
Iraq has responded to the escalating threat of a U.S. attack by inviting inspectors to return after nearly four years.
Last week, Washington backed down from its demand that the resolution authorize the use of "all necessary means" if Iraq failed to comply and agreed instead to let inspectors go to Iraq and report any violations or interference with inspections to the Security Council.
The new U.S. draft would then have the council convene immediately to discuss the situation - but U.S. officials have said this doesn't commit the Bush administration to wait for council action before it acts.
As in the original U.S. draft resolution, the new one demands that Iraq accept the new resolution within seven days of its adoption and declare its programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and related capabilities within 30 days.
Inspectors would then have up to 45 days to resume inspections.
In the new U.S. text, there are two references to Iraq being in "material breach" for violating U.N. resolutions, a phrase that some legal experts say could open the door for military action.
One reference says a false statement or omission in Iraq's declaration of its weapons programs and Iraq's failure to comply with inspectors would constitute "further material breach of Iraq's obligations," according to excerpts of the draft obtained yesterday.