[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
A team of Marines turns CH-46 helicopters over to the night crew at sunset in Northern Kuwait.
After a chaotic day, the United States seems to make progress in winning over support for an ultimatum. But some votes are far from certain.
March 13, 2003
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States claimed progress Wednesday in its campaign for support for a March 17 ultimatum threatening war against Iraq but refused to rule out delaying or abandoning the Security Council vote if necessary.
British lawmakers kept up the pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, who proposed a six-step plan to try to win U.N. support for military action.
So Britain was left alone to present the plan to the Security Council. British diplomats are desperate to get U.N. approval for military action to avert a political uproar that threatens the career of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Council diplomats said Washington had some problems with the so-called benchmarks. The administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press the United States is supportive of the British effort, without actually signing on to it.
The bitterly divided council discussed the British proposal for 31/2 hours Wednesday evening without reaching any consensus, and agreed to meet again this afternoon.
President Bush spoke with Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar late Wednesday to discuss strategy.
An Associated Press count indicated that a resolution had seven of the nine votes required for passage (not taking into account any vetoes). Two nations are believed to be uncommitted. But administration officials cautioned that the situation was extraordinarily chaotic and changing by the hour Wednesday.
Asked if the United States would consider pulling the resolution or delaying the vote -- an option raised earlier Wednesday by co-sponsor Spain -- a senior administration official would not rule it out.
The White House official made clear that a vote, if held, would be on the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution introduced last week which sets a March 17 ultimatum for Hussein to prove he has disarmed or face military action. The British proposals are in a side letter that is being kept separate, the official said.
It was not clear when a vote would be held, though the Americans still insisted that it come this week, possibly Friday.
For the first time, the Bush administration suggested a "no" vote could hurt relations with the world's only super power.
But France and Russia showed no signs of backing down from their veto threats, and key undecided nations gave no indication of support for the British proposal.
"I wouldn't deny we are making progress, but I wouldn't lead you to believe we've got it in the bag," spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at the State Department.
Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice worked the phones throughout the day, calling foreign capitals in search of backing.
But the only person who had a clear idea of where the votes stood, an administration official said, was Bush himself, who for the past three days has cleared his calendar for what has become an all-out global legislative fight.
By Wednesday evening, the tensions were spilling over into the Bush administration itself, as the hawkish senior administration officials who had opposed going to the United Nations in the first place erupted in frustration that the process was becoming protracted. The New York Times reported that one senior administration official blamed the delays on Blair, who had insisted on the new resolution to gain critical political support at home.
The White House said Bush spoke with the leaders of Pakistan, Chile and Mexico, considered key swing votes, among others.
He also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a day when Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, told the Izvestia daily "there will be damage" to U.S.-Russia relations if Moscow vetoes the resolution.
In Washington, talk of adverse consequences to a "no" vote was more vague. "The president has said in many of the phone calls to the nations that are not with us he will be disappointed," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
"The representatives of Congress think about these things. In all cases the president knows that we will continue to focus on issues where we have united values or the other issues on which we will work closely. But I can't predict every eventuality."
But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said again that Moscow believes inspections are working and should not be interrupted.
He implicitly criticized Britain for drawing up its own list of tasks and setting "artificial" dates for Iraq to complete them, declaring that Russia will accept a list and timetable only from U.N. weapons inspectors.
The French, too, came under criticism from American officials. By saying that they will veto the proposal "no matter what" if it opens the way to war, French President Jacques Chirac "sends precisely the wrong signal to Baghdad," said the State Department spokesman, Boucher.
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, a swing vote who has steadfastly called for more time for U.N. weapons inspections, expressed hope for a peaceful solution but admitted that time is running out. "Unfortunately I believe that winds of war are approaching," he said.
Fleischer -- though emphasizing that Bush has made no decision to go to war -- said the United States will not allow talks to go on without end.
"The president has given diplomacy a certain amount of time," Fleischer said. "He will not give it forever."
The United Nations was not the only stage for diplomatic efforts on Iraq.
Based on public statements and private interviews with senior diplomats, AP 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.
-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
Britain outlined a list of six conditions for Iraq's disarmament:
A TV appearance by Saddam Hussein renouncing weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq's permission for 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."
Hand over and account for all mobile chemical and biological production facilities.
Completion of the destruction of all Al-Samoud 2 missiles and their components.
An accounting for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Here's how the countries on the U.N. Security Council appear to be lining up on the resolution, according to the Associated Press, but efforts to swing votes were still intense Wednesday night. Nine votes are needed for passage, but five countries (*) have veto power.