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Gary Younge
Britain tries to sell new resolution

"We are ready to discuss the wording of that resolution and take on board any constructive suggestions of how the process on that draft resolution can be improved," Mr Straw said at the United Nations. "There is certainly the possibility of an amendment."

Mr Straw was in New York to try to sell the compromise to both sides of the security council divide before today's report on Iraqi compliance by the UN weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei.

He implied that the changes to the resolution were substantive. "They are certainly not cosmetic," he said. Mr Straw was due to hold meetings late last night with the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, and their Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio, to agree on a strategy.

American officials said that the US might accept amendments which would give Iraq a little more time to disarm fully if the delay would win over floating votes on the security council and prevent a veto from France or Russia.

They also made it clear that President Bush would not wait more than "a few days" before making a final decision on going to war. The administration would also not accept new "benchmarks" or tests of Iraqi compliance, which they believe would become the subject of drawn out negotiation.

Today's report by the weapons inspectors is expected to be a "mixed bag", according to UN officials. It will acknowledge Iraqi compliance, particularly in the destruction of banned Samoud missiles, but will also say that Baghdad has not been sufficiently forthcoming on what happened to the big stockpiles of banned weapons it held before the Gulf war.

Mr Blix has said that seven Iraqi scientists have come forward for interviews without government minders or tape recorders, but that the inspectors had not yet interviewed anyone outside Iraq .

British officials said they believed it was possible that amendments to the new draft resolution backing military action could help draw more support from some of the uncommitted council members.

With France, Russia, Germany Syria and China firmly opposed to an invasion, and Bulgaria backing the US, Britain and Spain, the new resolution's sponsors, the remaining floating six votes on the council are Mexico, Pakistan, Chile, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola.

According to a UN source at a security council meeting last Thursday, the UN ambassadors from Pakistan and Chile asked what the scope was for some sort of window to be added that might allow the resolution to be adopted? The addition of a final "window" for a peaceful solution would mean that the council would be voting for a final ultimatum.

Asked whether there was US support for the proposals, a British official said: "Well, there are Americans and Americans," a reference to past experience in which a state department compromise has been disowned by the White House.

Mr Straw has been involved in lengthy discussions with Canadian officials over a proposal suggested by Canada last week which would give more time for weapons inspectors, set a deadline and include specific benchmarks which Saddam Hussein would have to reach.

But Britain and America remained divided on the issue of regime change. President Bush, has said that Saddam Hussein must be removed as well as nation disarmed.

Mr Straw said yesterday: "If Iraq complies with [resolution] 1441 and disarms its weapons of mass destruction, we accept that the government of Iraq stays in place."

Confirmation of the British compromise plan came as the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, appealed to foreign ministers to discuss the Iraq crisis calmly: "I am encouraging people to strive for a compromise to seek common ground."

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