By Charlie Keenan


Left to right, Dominique de Villepin, Minister of Foreign Affairs for France; Igor Ivanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Russia; Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Germany; and Wang Yingfan, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, meet at the UN on March 19. (Photo: Stuary Ramson/AP Wide World)

In between the hardened opinions of the U.S. and Iraq is a group of nations calling for compromise. They say weapons inspections are showing progress and Iraq should be given more time to disarm.

Nations such as France, Russia, and China all share this opinion. They want to continue putting pressure on Iraq by increasing the number of weapons inspectors. They say more time is the way to get Iraq to disarm.

"The use of force can only be a final recourse," says Dominique de Villepin, France's Foreign Minister. "If this approach fails and leads us to an impasse, we will not rule out any option."

France, Germany, and Russia co-sponsored a memo to the UN Security Council recently that states they want inspections in Iraq to continue until June. Inspections can always be strengthened, they noted. "We and others will demand that inspectors continue their work on the basis of a specific plan and specific dates," says Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

France, China, and Russia carry plenty of political clout. They are all permanent members of the UN Security Council. Any one of the five permanent members can veto a resolution authorizing war—even if the resolution is approved by a majority vote of the 15-member council.

Countries against war point to a recent report by the UN weapons inspections team. For instance, Iraq has disarmed three dozen al-Samoud II missiles, which are rockets that can travel farther than the UN-imposed limits of 150 kilometers.

"We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks," says Hans Blix, the chief of 200 or so UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. "Lethal weapons are being destroyed."

Blix says Iraq could be made to answer more questions. The report also says Iraq still has huge stocks of biological and chemical weapons and that it might be restarting banned missile programs. He says it will take months to complete the inspections.

Many countries agree. If there is the "slightest hope for political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that," says Tang Jiaxuan, China's Foreign Minister.