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Iraq

Bush summit shaping up as prelude to war

The meeting with Britain and Spain's leaders is a last-ditch stab at reviving the troubled U.N. resolution.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2003


[AP photo]
LINES IN THE SAND: Soldiers of Britain's 7th Armored Brigade gather in the Kuwait desert to hear an address from Lt. Gen. Jeff Conway, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
WASHINGTON -- Their campaign to muster diplomatic support for a war to disarm Iraq in tatters, President Bush and the prime ministers of Britain and Spain will meet Sunday in a "final" attempt to win U.N. Security Council backing for war.

The hastily scheduled summit among Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain will be at a U.S. air base in the Azores, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,000 miles west of Portugal.

The development came as thousands of antiwar demonstrators gathered in Washington and many other cities for weekend protests and as numerous signs pointed Friday to imminent military action despite a new setback:

After weeks of negotiations and delay, the Pentagon all but gave up hope it could use Turkey as a staging area for a northern invasion of Iraq. Military analysts said that would complicate the battle plan and could result in more casualties for U.S. troops along the southern front, who will have to travel longer distances through hostile territory or use helicopters or parachute drops.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the leaders will explore "all of the possibilities," a signal the one-day summit will include talk about waging war without U.N. approval.

"It is time to come to a conclusion that says to Saddam Hussein, it is time for you to disarm or be disarmed," she said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would address the nation if -- more likely when -- the president commits to military action.

"We are rapidly approaching the final diplomatic moments," Fleischer said.

The Associated Press, reported that White House aides are preparing a major war address by Bush, which could come as early as Monday. It is expected to serve as an ultimatum for Hussein to disarm or face war, AP reported.

Meanwhile at the United Nations, Chile proposed a compromise that would give Hussein three weeks to meet five disarmament conditions.

Fleischer swiftly rejected the proposal, calling it another "nonstarter" that gave Hussein too much time to take action he should have taken long ago.

A U.N. resolution must win nine votes and no vetoes to be approved by the 15-member Security Council. France and Russia have pledged to veto any measure that implies the automatic use of military force.

The United States, Britain and Spain have offered such a resolution and are struggling to attract nine votes, which would allow them to claim a moral victory on the cusp of war.

The New York Times reported diplomats and administration officials said Bush and Blair had been considering a meeting to discuss the diplomatic end-game for several weeks. But, the newspaper reported, the White House also made clear the last-minute push to mend the deep divisions that have riven the Security Council had little to do with Bush's desire for further U.N. authorization. More important, the New York Times cited officials as saying, were pleas from Britain and Spain, whose leaders face intense domestic political opposition to their support for Bush, to give diplomacy one last chance.

"This is important to our friends and our allies," Fleischer said. "And if it's important to our friends and our allies, it's important to President Bush."

The White House said it has the authorization it needs for war with Iraq. "The United States, and the president has said it repeatedly, does not need a second resolution," Fleischer said. He said the authority to disarm Hussein's government by force is inherent in previous U.N. resolutions.

Throughout the day, the rhythm of military preparations quickened.

U.S. warplanes bombed a radar site about 265 miles southwest of Baghdad. It was the 10th time in 12 days military officials announced air strikes. More than 20 targets have been attacked in Iraq's southern no-fly zone.

"We're seeing an escalation of strikes due to the escalation of things they're bringing in -- in violation of U.N. resolutions," said Air Force Maj. John Anderson of U.S. Central Command's air units. "We can't hope they won't fire on us. We've got to respond immediately."

Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander who would lead an invasion of Iraq, left his Qatar command post Friday to meet with officials in the United Arab Emirates. At least 225,000 U.S. and 25,000 British troops are in the region.

A prominent Muslim cleric in Baghdad urged worshipers to attack American interests around the world. A few hours later, Germany and Spain urged their citizens to leave Iraq.

"May God sink their ships and crash their planes," said Abdel-Razzaq al-Saadi, the preacher at the Mother of All Battles mosque. He said it is "the obligation for Iraqis and others now to threaten U.S. interests everywhere and set them ablaze."

The United Nations began withdrawing non-essential employees from monitoring posts in the demilitarized zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border, moving them to Kuwait City.

U.N. officials also said routine helicopter and maritime operations were suspended. Western diplomats called the moves precursors to a U.N. pullout in the event of war.

U.N. inspectors, meanwhile, were back on the road Friday, supervising the destruction of four more banned Iraqi missiles at a site north of the capital Baghdad, U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki said.

The latest destruction brings to 65 the number of Al Samoud 2 missiles crushed by Iraq since it met a March 1 deadline to destroy them after they were found to have a range beyond the 93 miles allowed by the United Nations.

Also Friday, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix received a 25-page letter from Iraq on VX nerve agent, half in English, half in Arabic. The letter will have to translated and studied to determine what is new, and whether it helps to resolve any issues, said Blix's spokesman, Ewen Buchanan.

Iraq had promised a letter on anthrax as well, but Buchanan made no mention of that.

Blix is expected to present the Security Council with his list of top priority questions that Iraq must answer about its chemical, biological and missile programs as early as Tuesday.

The list of about a dozen items must be approved by the Security Council. Under previous council resolutions, Iraq's response is to be assessed in 120 days.

At the United Nations, diplomats appeared somewhat downcast, aware that air is quickly leaking from the diplomatic balloon, yet knowing more haggling would be required.

"I hate to work over the weekend," said Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov. "But this is a very serious matter."

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

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