But most of the 15 members of the Security Council, which issued the warning on Monday, disagree with the US interpretation. Envoys from many countries, including long-time US allies, said that only the council has the authority to determine whether Iraq has breached the deal and if so what response would be appropriate.
That was the main obstacle to quick approval of a council resolution endorsing Secretary-General Kofi Annan's agreement with the Iraqis to open all sites, including eight presidential palaces, to UN arms inspectors.
Annan said if his deal holds, "we will be moving on to a period when Iraq will complete its obligations and the council can begin thinking of lifting the sanctions" that were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
In Washington, US President Bill Clinton hailed the agreement and called on Iraq "to turn the commitment it has made into full compliance."
Ambassador Bill Richardson told NBC-TV's "Today" show: "This gives us the green light to approach our policy of diplomacy and force and it shows to the world once again that the onus of complying with this agreement is with Iraq."
Except for Britain, few other council members share that interpretation. During Monday's vote, speakers from China, Russia, France, Costa Rica, Brazil, Portugal, Sweden and others said the decision on using force rests with the full council alone.
Diplomatic sources said several countries agreed to support the resolution only after receiving oral assurances from the co-sponsors - Britain and Japan - that the document did not constitute a "green light" for an automatic American attack.
Before the vote, China's UN ambassador, Qin Huasun, said Beijing had insisted "that there must not be any automatic authorization of the use of force against in Iraq in this current resolution."
"Our misgivings about the possible abuse of this resolution have not been removed," Qin said. "The passing of this resolution in no way means that the Security Council automatically authorizes any state to use force against Iraq."
It appeared that the Iraqis were keenly aware of the divisions within the Security Council.
In Baghdad, Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said the resolution was a mere "face-saving" measure for the United States but promised that Baghdad would not violate the agreement.
"If there is any real meaning in this resolution, then it is the adoption and the endorsement of the agreement", al-Sahhaf told Associated Press Television.Reuse content