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France, China won't budge

President Bush calls leaders of the two countries, but they remain opposed to using force to disarm Iraqi leader Hussein.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 8, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The leaders of France and China rebuffed efforts by President Bush on Friday to line up support for the use of force against Iraq within the next month or two. Their continuing resistance made clear the difficulty the White House faces in its attempt to win explicit new authorization from the U.N. Security Council for military action.

A day after he said he was open to pursuing a new U.N. resolution, Bush said the 15-member Security Council would have to decide soon and that he was confident it would uphold "to the fullest" its previous demands that Saddam Hussein's government disarm.

But after phone conversations with Bush on Friday, President Jacques Chirac of France and President Jiang Zemin of China signaled they wanted U.N. weapons inspections to continue for some time before they would support war. The French ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, said by his nation's count, 10 or 11 Security Council members are in favor of giving the inspectors more time.

The administration showed no signs of deviating from its timetable of forcing a showdown within "weeks, not months," as Bush put it last week. The military buildup in the region continued, with the Pentagon sending a fifth aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, to the Persian Gulf.

During a visit to American forces based at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the length of any war was unknowable, but estimated it could be "six days, six weeks, I doubt six months."

Administration officials said their efforts to line up international support for Bush's position were benefiting from Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council on Wednesday of previously classified evidence against Iraq.

Bush said if the U.N. Security Council does not follow through on its pledge to disarm Hussein, "we will lead a coalition to disarm him. And I mean it."

"This is a defining moment for the U.N. Security Council," he said. "If the Security Council were to allow a dictator to lie and deceive, the Security Council will be weakened."

Bush's remarks were part of a White House effort to keep pressure on Iraq in the week leading up to a Feb. 14 report to the council from U.N. weapons inspectors the administration has said will mark the beginning of the end of its patience with Hussein.

Bush will devote his radio address today to Iraq and make the same points when he addresses a congressional Republican retreat on Sunday. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will take the message to the major television talk shows on Sunday.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the diplomatic process of seeking support for a new resolution and trying to reach agreement on the specific language "is now just beginning," and he suggested there was flexibility in the administration's position about how the resolution might read.

"What you are seeing here is a serious diplomatic effort under way, and it's going to continue," Fleischer said. He said the opinions of other world leaders would matter to Bush. "But make no mistake," he said. "He will also lead."

If his efforts at diplomacy Friday were any indication, Bush faces a difficult selling job with France and China, both of which have the power to veto Security Council resolutions.

After Jiang's 20-minute phone call with Bush on Friday morning, the official Chinese news agency said Jiang had pointed out "that the two U.N. weapons inspections organizations in Iraq had made some progress" and "support should be given to the two U.N. organizations in the strengthening of the weapons inspections."

Jiang had spoken earlier in the day to Chirac, pledging support for continued weapons inspections and telling the French leader all efforts should be made to avoid a war, Chinese news agencies said.

Even before Bush spoke to Chirac Friday, French officials made clear they would resist Bush's pressure. A day after Bush said, "the game is over," Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the French prime minister, said: "It's not a game. It's not over."

Speaking in Paris, Chirac said, "France considers that in between the inspection arrangements as they exist now and war, there are many, many ways to disarm Iraq. We have still not gone to the end -- far from it."

France has indicated it would not rule out backing a resolution authorizing force against Iraq, but only after it became clear inspections would no longer work.

Fleischer said the administration's goal was not necessarily another unanimous Security Council vote. "Nobody has said that that is a standard that must be set," he said.

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