Face-Off at the U.N.

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UNITED NATIONS: The Security Council has turned up the heat on Iraq — by unanimously condemning them for threatening to expel U.N. weapons inspectors, and slapping a travel ban on Baghdad officials. "The resolution tosses the ball back into Iraq’s court," says TIME's correspondent at the U.N., William Dowell. "It does not specify military action, but leaves the door open to it. It also leaves the door open for Saddam to back down."

Not that Tariq Aziz saw it that way. "Iraq will continue to explain its just case and this resolution will not scare it," said the Deputy Prime Minister — adding that Iraq will proceed with its threat to expel American members of U.N. weapons inspection teams.

In that case, says Dowell, "the Security Council will deliver a speedy response in the form of stronger action" — and Saddam's main aim, to drive a wedge between America and its allies, will have apparently backfired. "The old coalition is back," cheered U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson.

Not quite. When it comes to military action, Washington believes it already has U.N. authorization for a response to Iraqi violations of the 1991 ceasefire, and is avoiding discussion of the issue in the Security Council — where France, Russia or China might veto it. But military action is a complex option, particularly if it fails to alter Saddam’s behavior. The U.S. would then be left with the choice of backing down or escalating a confrontation without the support of key allies. Even when Iraq is in the wrong, bombing Baghdad is not as easy as it sounds.