Archive for Saturday, March 8, 2003

U.S.-led group seeks March 17 Iraq deadline

March 8, 2003


— The United States, joined by key allies Britain and Spain, proposed delivering an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: Give up banned weapons by March 17 or face war. But a powerful bloc of nations stood firm Friday against any new resolution that would authorize military action.

With 250,000 allied troops poised to attack Iraq and the White House warning that time for diplomacy is running out, the 15-nation U.N. Security Council emerged even more polarized after Friday's high-stakes council meeting.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters the council would vote next week on the latest proposal, an amended U.S.-British-Spanish resolution that paves the way for war. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said he asked council members "to be prepared to vote as early as Tuesday."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin rejected the idea of a deadline and came with his own plan: a summit at the U.N. Security Council with heads of state deciding the course of war and peace. But Powell dismissed the idea, saying he saw no need for one when key powers have been expressing their views "openly and candidly."

Facing strong opposition to war, the United States and Britain hoped the offer of a deadline would win over undecided nations on the council.

But there were no takers.

Angola and Chile, for example, indicated afterward they might abstain. Pakistan also appeared to be leaning away from the U.S. position.

For weeks, Washington's game plan has been to muster the nine votes necessary for the resolution's passage and then persuade permanent members France, Russia and China to abstain rather than wield their vetoes.

But France and Russia warned Friday they would do everything possible to prevent the resolution's adoption, and only Bulgaria joined the resolution's sponsors in speaking up for the idea of a deadline.

President Bush, Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to lobby allies by telephone until the vote. Bush spoke by phone with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.

Other developments Friday in the Iraq crisis:¢ The chief U.N. weapons inspectors told the U.N. Security Council that after 3 1/2 months of investigation Iraq has become more cooperative in disarming. Chief Inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad's cooperation "can be seen as active, or even proactive."¢ Turkey sent hundreds of trucks carrying tanks, artillery, and jeeps to the Iraqi frontier, the largest Turkish border buildup yet ahead of a possible Iraq war.¢ U.N. aid agencies said they faced a huge funding shortfall that would hamper plans to cope with a war in Iraq. "We have just one third of the finance we need for basic preparations," said Elizabeth Byrs, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

If the resolution is defeated, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said they would be prepared to go to war anyway with a coalition of willing nations. But both know that U.N. support would give the war international legitimacy and guarantee that members of the organization share the costs of rebuilding Iraq.

Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gasper Martins and others said the United States needed to be open to negotiations to gain support before the vote. The United States gave no indication it would be open to another compromise.

Council ambassadors met privately for 3 1/2 hours late Friday to discuss the amended resolution and agreed to meet again Monday afternoon. Diplomats said the open council meeting arguments were repeated behind closed doors.

Late Friday, diplomats said a two-page Arab proposal, backed by Saudi Arabia and circulated by Pakistani diplomats, was designed to encourage Iraqis to revolt in order to prevent war. It would offer an amnesty to all Iraqi officials who cooperate with inspectors and suggests military force could be used to protect Iraqis under threat from their own regime.

Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram denied any connection to the paper, which he called "one of many ideas floating around." Pakistan doesn't plan to officially introduce the draft unless Arab ambassadors can persuade the major council powers to support it, the diplomats said.

The tense council meeting earlier in the day was peppered with dramatic moments. There was soft applause for the remarks by both British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his French counterpart, and some chuckles when Straw looked directly at de Villepin, and repeatedly referred to him by his first name, Dominique -- a diplomatic no-no.

"Dominique also said, the choice before us is disarmament by peace or disarmament by war," Straw said. "Dominique, that is a false choice."

De Villepin stared back at Straw, stone-faced.

Referring to Saddam, the British minister declared, "He doesn't need more time to comply. As he showed this week, he can act with astonishing speed when he wants to."

The amended resolution declares that "Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity" the council offered in November "unless, on or before March 17, 2003, the council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations."

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