St. Petersburg Times Online: World and Nation

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

U.S. pushes U.N. on war

A march toward war gains momentum even as competing proposals widen the split within the United Nations.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- The climactic phase of the Iraq crisis opened Monday as the United States, Britain and Spain introduced a brief, blunt resolution to the United Nations. The key phrase: "Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it."

France, Germany and Russia -- which oppose immediate military action -- offered a counterproposal that calls for up to four more months of weapons inspections and progress reports every three weeks.

"War is always the worst of solutions," said French President Jacques Chirac.

The three countries won immediate backing from China, despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's lobbying efforts with top officials in Beijing on Monday.

But in the Persian Gulf, elsewhere in southwest Asia and within the Bush administration, preparations for military conflict gained momentum and a sense of inevitability grew:

-- Facing a Saturday U.N. deadline to destroy scores of prohibited missiles, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein indicated that he would not comply -- an action that could cause France and other opponents of an attack on Iraq to reconsider their position.

-- Turkey moved more of its soldiers to its border with northern Iraq and its cabinet approved the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops onto Turkish soil.

-- "We are on the verge of war," acknowledged White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters at the White House that the only hope for a diplomatic solution at this point would be a decision by Hussein to go into exile. She said she is not aware of any progress on that option.

Fleischer also made a point of mentioning "regime change in Iraq" as an objective equal in importance to disarmament.

"The president has always said that we're not going to leave the same people in charge of Iraq," he said.

Increasingly, however, it appeared that the United States and Britain may have to go to war without explicit U.N. backing and with a much smaller coalition than President Bush's father assembled in 1990 to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

A vote on the new resolution presented to the 15-member Security Council by the United States, Britain and Spain may not come for nearly two weeks -- perhaps immediately after Blix's March 7 oral report.

To pass, it must attract nine votes and avoid a veto from any of the five permanent members: France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States. But apart from the resolution's three co-sponsors, only Bulgaria has expressed solid support for the proposal.

The U.S.-British-Spanish proposal does not mention a deadline or explicitly threaten war. But if it wins approval from the council, it would open the way for member states to deliver the "serious consequences" -- diplomatic code for war -- threatened last November in U.N. Resolution 1441.

The French, German and Russian memorandum says there is "no evidence" that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction or capabilities, although it concedes that "suspicions remain." As for the U.N.-led inspections, they have "just reached their full pace," are "functioning without hindrance" and "have already produced results," the memorandum says.

The document calls for tougher inspections, including precise deadlines for Iraq to disarm, an increase in the number of inspectors, the creation of mobile units to inspect movable targets like trucks, better aerial spying on Iraqi sites and better processing of the spy data.

The memorandum coincided with a meeting Monday in Brussels of the foreign ministers of the European Union in which there was no effort to hide the deep divisions created by the Iraq crisis.

The French foreign minister, Dominque de Villepin, urged the United Nations to give Baghdad a timetable to disarm while Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said that Hussein's guilt had already been proved and that Britain wanted the Security Council to vote on a resolution in "up to two weeks, maybe a little more" in support of war.

De Villepin said a second resolution would be "a mistake" while arms inspections were making progress.

Meanwhile, two key dates rapidly approached:

SATURDAY: The U.N. deadline for Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles and 380 imported rocket engines.

It also is the deadline for another written interim progress report by Blix, one that could foreshadow the more significant oral report he will deliver six days later. Aides said Blix still carries a list of 30 unresolved questions about Iraqi disarmament.

He already has concluded that the missiles and imported engines are prohibited, and he has ordered them destroyed. The missiles can reach 20 miles farther than the 93-mile range set by the council in 1991, Blix said.

Iraqi leaders said early Monday that they were drafting a reply to Blix's order and were open to negotiations. Blix said his order was nonnegotiable.

MARCH 7: The next oral presentations to the Security Council by Blix and fellow arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei.

U.S. officials said they will not press for a vote on the new resolution until those oral reports are made. The vote is expected to end the diplomatic phase of the crisis, at least at the United Nations, and could clear the way for war.

Rice, the national security adviser, underscored Bush's determination to act, regardless of the outcome at the United Nations.

"The president of the United States believes very strongly that the American people are under threat, that American security interests are under threat, and that world peace and security are threatened by Saddam Hussein," she said. "No one should underestimate the importance of this issue for the United States."

Rice predicted that Hussein would try to influence the U.N. vote by taking additional steps to cooperate.

"Whenever he's under tremendous pressure, he puts forward a little cooperation. It's not going to be acceptable this time," she said.

-- Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers, the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.