The US resolution sets out a timescale for the UN inspection regime that could take the process well into 2003, as long as Iraq were to remain in compliance. France and Russia have objected to the resolution on the grounds that it still provides for the automatic resort to military force in the event of Iraqi non-compliance. Russia has also argued that many of the provisions of the resolution are so severe that it is unrealistic to expect Iraq to comply. ‘We cannot agree to any ‘automaticity’ in the use of force, and we cannot agree to unimplementable, unrealistic demands,’ said Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, on 23 October.

The US draft stipulates that false statements by Iraq coupled with failure to co-operate fully with the inspectors would amount to a material breach of UN resolutions and, as such, would mean that Iraq would face ‘serious consequences’. France and Russia have argued that, in effect, this means that the US would regard itself as having the right to initiate military action against Iraq in the event of the slightest infringement to the new resolution. The US has sought to allay these fears, insisting that no action would be taken without the broadest consultation.

Another controversial clause in the resolution entails authorising the inspection team to invite Iraqi scientists and their families out of the country for interviews. The purpose of this is to ensure that Iraqi authorities are unable to exert pressure on the interviewees. However, UN officials have expressed reservations about how practical this provision would be: questions have been raised about how to define family members, and about whether Iraqis would seek to abuse the system to allow them to seek asylum abroad.

The US is said to be aiming to decide by the end of October on whether to take the resolution to a vote. President Bush was scheduled to receive at his Texas ranch Chinese President Jiang Zemin on 25 October, and to hold talks the following day in Mexico with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on 20 October celebrated his 100 per cent endorsement in the previous week’s referendum by ordering an amnesty for prisoners held in Iraqi jails.