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U.S. quietly hunts for resolution votes

©Associated Press
February 24, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- Senior U.S. officials have been quietly dispatched in recent days to the capitals of key Security Council countries where they are warning leaders to vote with the United States on Iraq or risk "paying a heavy price."

For some of the countries, such as Angola, Guinea and Cameroon -- poor African nations whose concerns drew little attention before they landed seats on the council -- there is the possibility that supporting Washington's drive for a new U.N. resolution authorizing war might reap benefits down the line.

"For a long time now, we have been asking for help to rebuild our country after years of war," Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins said. "No one is tying the request to support on Iraq, but it is all happening at the same time."

Angola's president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, met in the capital, Luanda, Thursday with Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner, who was diverted from a trip to South Africa to meet with the leaders of the council's three African nations.

The United States and Britain plan to submit their resolution to the Security Council this week and will ask for a vote by the middle of March.

In the meantime, the State Department has sent some of its top people to the world's capitals to lobby for support even as President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair work the phones. The Bush administration also has recruited the leaders of Australia and Spain to help push for votes.

In the past three weeks, the administration has sent Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Kim Holmes, the assistant secretary of state for international organizations, to Mexico City.

Mexican diplomats described the visits as hostile and complained Washington was demonstrating little concern for the constraints of the Mexican government, whose people are overwhelmingly opposed to war.

To get its resolution through, the United States must get nine votes in the 15-member council while preventing France, Russia or China -- which are pushing for continued inspections -- from using vetoes.

On Saturday, Bush brushed aside doubts about whether the resolution could overcome the deep divisions within the council, saying "we are just beginning" to line up allies.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton will go to Moscow this week for talks designed to persuade Russian officials to support the U.S.-British resolution.

While Washington and London believe they have the necessary authorization to forcefully disarm Iraq, many key allies have said a new resolution would help them overcome opposition at home. The backing of the council also would lend international legitimacy to a war and mean Washington could count on the United Nations to share in the costs of rebuilding Iraq.

But Washington is at least five votes short with support guaranteed only from Britain, Spain and Bulgaria.

Since Germany and Syria have said they would not support the resolution, and Pakistan is almost certain to abstain, the United States must convince the African trio and Chile and Mexico to vote "yes." Otherwise, the resolution will fail.

Much to the frustration of the Bush administration, Mexico is turning out to be the most difficult vote to get.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar visited Mexico last week but failed to secure their support.

Diplomats said the Bush administration has little it can use to scare or entice Mexico since it does not receive U.S. aid and the one thing it had wanted most -- legalizing the status of undocumented Mexicans in the United States -- was taken off the table more than one year ago.

Complicating matters is a deal Mexico cut with Chile in which the two Spanish-speaking countries agreed to cast abstentions if the five powers on the council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- failed to reach a compromise.

France is doing its share of counterlobbying, trying to keep countries that have pushed for continued inspections from moving to the U.S. position. Paris' key sphere of influence is in Africa, where it was once a colonial power.

At an African summit last week in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac claimed to have found unanimous support among African leaders that inspections, not war, are the best way to disarm Iraq.

Gaspar Martins of Angola said the vote-jockeying was part of the game of international diplomacy.

"If I was the U.S. or France, I would be doing the same thing. To achieve results you need to offer a lot of communication, a lot of dialogue and a lot of attention."

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