United Nations The United States claimed progress Wednesday in its campaign for a March 17 ultimatum threatening war against Iraq, but refused to rule out delaying or abandoning a Security Council vote if necessary.
The different options reflected the turmoil in negotiations on a new Iraq resolution. After weeks of talks, the Bush administration and co-sponsors Britain and Spain were still searching for a winning formula.
Britain, a key ally, proposed a "to-do" list for Saddam Hussein -- six steps to avert war including a television appearance renouncing weapons of mass destruction -- in hopes of gaining votes for the resolution, which faces the threat of French and Russian vetoes.
During a tense three-hour meeting of the bitterly divided council, Britain went even further, offering to abandon the March 17 ultimatum if members approved its list of disarmament tests for Saddam. The resolution would then implicitly threaten Iraq with "serious consequences" if it failed to comply.
Britain is desperate to get U.N. approval for military action to avert a political uproar that threatens the career of Prime Minister Tony Blair. British diplomats had initially expected the United States and Spain to co-sponsor the demands to Saddam, just as they had co-sponsored the resolution -- but they didn't.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said he "commended the proposal" to the council for consideration, but wanted to see how members reacted "before we embrace it in its entirety."
Based on public statements and private interviews with senior diplomats, The Associated Press has determined that the resolution currently has the support of seven countries: Britain, the United States, Spain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Pakistan and Mexico. Angola and Guinea were still uncommitted Wednesday. Chile, Germany and China are expected to abstain. Russia could also abstain or vote against the draft along with Syria and France.
Russia and France have led the opposition to any resolution that has an ultimatum and authorizes war, and both countries indicated the British proposal did not change their position.
Diplomats said the divisions in the council were evident during the closed-door meeting, and the British proposal raised many questions. The council scheduled another meeting for this afternoon.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who attended the council meeting, was asked later whether 10 days would be enough to give a report on Saddam's actions to meet the British tests.
"We could give a report after 10 days but certainly not in two days," he said. "We wouldn't judge but we could report to you."
In the Security Council, the British took the lead in trying to come up with a compromise because Blair faces a revolt from his own Labor party and even stronger public opposition if he joins the United States in military action without international backing.
Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien outlined six disarmament tasks that Baghdad would have to meet by a certain deadline. O'Brien said the conditions would be part of a new draft resolution.
In the latest draft, the conditions are:
- A television appearance by Saddam renouncing weapons of mass destruction.
- Iraq's permission for at least 30 key weapons scientists to travel to Cyprus to be interviewed by U.N. weapons inspectors.
- The destruction of all remaining anthrax and weapons to disperse it, "or credible evidence provided to account for their whereabouts."
- Completion of the destruction of all Al-Samoud 2 missiles and their components.
- An accounting for unmanned aerial vehicles.
- Hand over and account for all mobile chemical and biological production facilities.
|Other developments in the Iraq crisis:¢ Asked about the British conditions and an expected new deadline, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov told CNN: "We would not be really in favor of considering some artificial dates if they are not coming from inspectors, or accepted by them."¢ U.S. aircraft dropped 120,000 leaflets over several sites between Baghdad and the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The messages included a warning to the Iraqi military not to use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. or allied troops, according to U.S. Central Command.¢ Iraq has opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide bombings against U.S. forces in case they invade Iraq, Arab media and Iraqi dissidents said.|