Iraq: Baghdad agreement awaits the UN seal

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THE AGREEMENT reached at the weekend by Kofi Annan and the Iraqi leadership should become clear this morning when the Secretary General, on his return from Baghdad, will lay it out before a meeting of the UN Security Council.

If it satisfies the council, then work will start immediately on a new UN resolution to to give legal standing to the text - and spell out to Saddam Hussein the consequences of a failure to honour it. Debate within the Council could quickly become contentious.

A first outline of the the Annan deal was sketched out to representatives of the five permanent Council members, including Britain and the United States, at the UN headquarters last night. Officially, however, the full scope of the deal will only become known when Mr Annan briefs the full Council today.

There was discernible optimism in New York that the package will indeed be enough to satisfy Council members that Iraq has yielded to demands that it comply once again with UN resolutions and allow the work of the Special Commission on weapons inspections in Iraq (Unscom) to proceed unimpeded. Council members will be anxious to hear the reaction of Richard Butler, the chairman of Unscom, who is due to return himself to Iraq next week. Mr Butler will be asked to express a view on whether the deal is workable or whether it in some way pollutes the integrity of Unscom's work.

There are no technical or legal requirements for the Council formally to respond to the Annan package. But diplomats in New York underlined yesterday the importance of a new UN resolution to acknowledge the Annan agreement and give it some legal foundation.

"Assuming that this deal is acceptable, then all of us will be anxious to nail it down," one European official said. He noted that there was no Council resolution following the Russian-brokered deal that ended the previous Iraqi stand-off last November, and that that agreement unraveled swiftly thereafter.

There is a risk, however, that in debating such a resolution, the Security Council could once more expose its own divisions on the long-term handling of the Iraq situation.

Britain, in particular, will be seeking "the authority" of the Security Council resolution to allow a rapid UN response, "by whatever means necessary", to any further breach of agreement by Saddam Hussein.

"It is important he is held absolutely to any agreement and that the allies can respond quickly to any further breach without needing to go through the various diplomatic rigmaroles," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said yesterday. "The key thing is to make sure he cannot do this again. We cannot keep moving planes and aircraft-carriers to the region every time he chooses to misbehave."

Asked about the implicit suggestion that the authority of a UN Security Council resolution would have been required for any further military action against Iraq, the spokesman said there had been different interpretations of the position.

The Foreign Office last week insisted that military action could have been carried out under existing resolutions, but the latest government position suggests that a specific resolution is now required.

It was not known what position the Government would take if the Security Council rejected an attempt to build approval for military sanctions into a new resolution - something that is entirely possible.

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