Britain is considering amending the latest UN resolution on Iraq in order to give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "an ultimatum" and to set out "precise tasks" that show his sincere willingness to disarm, a diplomatic source said yesterday.
The compromise deal aims to win over members of the UN Security Council who have yet to decide whether to back the resolution declaring Iraq has rejected the "final opportunity" to disarm peacefully given in Resolution 1441 on Nov. 8.
It was expected to come up for intense discussion as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew out to New York on yesterday ahead of today's report to the Security Council by top UN inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei.
Complicating matters for the drive to military action by US President George W. Bush's administration were comments Wednesday from Blix, who said Iraq is now providing "a great deal more" cooperation.
Despite intense lobbying, the US hasn't been able to muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a resolution allowing for war against Iraq.
Throughout Wednesday, clusters of Security Council diplomats met in the "delegates' lounge" at the UN, sipping coffee from paper cups and going over compromise options.
Under any amendment, Iraq would be ordered to meet key disarmament tasks that would allow "everybody to judge if Saddam Hussein is really cooperating or not with the inspectors", a diplomatic source in London told agencies on condition of anonymity.
One option would be to offer an "ultimatum" that would have "a very short deadline because everybody knows that the US are not ready to accept a long delay" to the start of military action, the source said.
It was understood that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government wants a resolution to be put to a Security Council vote sometime next Monday to Thursday, though a source acknowledged: "That may change."
Two areas are open to negotiations -- "time" and "benchmarks" -- but Blair is strongly opposed to letting the crisis drag on for much longer, and certainly not for months.
At a press briefing, a spokesman for Blair -- Bush's staunchest ally on Iraq -- said it was still up to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to "fully" cooperate with UN inspectors.
He refused to comment on speculation that a compromise amendment could be tabled or incorporated into the draft, giving Saddam one more deadline.
Blair also signalled yesterday he could be prepared to wage war on Iraq even if a number of UN powers vetoed a new resolution authorizing military action.
Until now, Blair has said he reserved the right to go to war without UN authorization in case a singular "unreasonable veto" was wielded.
But in a debate on music television channel MTV he appeared to extend that proviso to include multiple vetoes.
"If there was a veto applied by one of the countries with a veto or by countries that I thought were applying the veto unreasonably then in those circumstances I would," Blair said.
Blair also said that Iraq's oil will be not be placed in of the hands of the invading countries following a war, denying that the looming conflict was to secure oil supplies.
"It is nothing to do with oil, not for us, not for the UK, not for the United States," Blair said.
He also used the opportunity to criticize France and Russia, who have declared their opposition to war.