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Britain Calls On U.N. to Give Iraq Until March 17 to Disarm

Times Staff Writers

Britain, backed by the United States and Spain, presented a new proposal Friday giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to disarm by March 17 or be disarmed by force. And U.S. officials warned that if the vote on the resolution fails, Washington may not wait until then to launch a war.

But veto-holding Security Council members France and Russia immediately rejected the proposal, an amendment to an existing resolution, saying it would automatically lead to war. Several crucial undecided Security Council members said the deadline -- just 10 days away -- was “unrealistic,” leaving the U.S. and its allies potentially short of the necessary nine votes needed for passage.

Foreign ministers from 11 of the council’s 15 nations had gathered in New York to hear chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei give an update on Baghdad’s disarmament after three months of inspections. The diplomats were hoping that the assessment might point them to a clear decision about whether Iraq has failed to comply with the U.N.'s disarmament demands.

But Blix’s carefully calibrated conclusion -- that while Iraq has been accelerating its cooperation, results have been limited -- sparked a whirlwind of high-stakes diplomatic activity in the building for the rest of the day.

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The French were the first to dismiss the new proposal, even before Britain formally introduced it to the council.

“We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting cooperation,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the council. A deadline would be “a pretext for war,” he said. “France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force.”

Despite the initial negative reaction, U.S. officials reaffirmed their right to attack Iraq with or without the U.N. and said they want a vote early next week, perhaps Tuesday.

For the first time, the Bush administration has begun to believe that it could lose the diplomatic battle. And the reality of possible defeat is beginning to seep into U.S. plans.

A discouraging day at the Security Council left many in the Bush administration preparing for defeat -- even of the compromise resolution.

“There is a feeling that even with the British proposal, the resolution is probably unacceptable,” a well-placed source said. “The White House thinks it has gone as far as it can and so it’s time to get used to it.”

But Washington is not yet willing to give up on the Security Council either. Bulgaria and Spain have declared their support, and Cameroon swung to the U.S. side Friday.

The United States previewed the resolution to the Mexicans before British Foreign Minister Jack Straw introduced it, and they’re now interested, U.S. officials say. Mexico is widely considered the ninth key vote.

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President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will work the issue over the weekend in a last flurry of diplomacy.

The U.S. and Britain designed the amended resolution to give the six so-called swing votes on the council political cover, by putting the burden of proof clearly on Iraq and not asking for an endorsement of war. The resolution says that unless the council decides that Iraq has shown “full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation” on or before March 17, Iraq “will have failed to take the final opportunity” to disarm.

“They’ll be voting for a final ultimatum, not a war resolution,” a British envoy said.

That is a subtle but critical shift that U.S. and British officials hope will produce nine and possibly even 10 votes next week -- in turn making it more difficult for Russia and France to cast vetoes in defiance of the majority of the Security Council, British officials said Friday.

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That strategy appeared to win over at least one previously undecided council member -- Cameroon.

“Iraq must show full cooperation,” Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou said Friday. “So far, it has not.”

When asked whether 10 days would be enough time for Iraq to put everything on the table, the ambassador said: “One day is enough. One hour is enough. It depends on your will.”

But several of the wavering council members were not swayed. Chile and Angola said they were holding out for a compromise that could ensure maximum council backing -- not one that would invite a veto or just scrape by under intense pressure.

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Pakistan has also been exploring ways to find common ground for the council, although Pakistani officials have privately signaled their tentative support for the resolution in previous weeks.

“Ten days is unrealistic for full disarmament,” Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram said Friday. “The question we have for the British is, what exactly does Iraq have to do to show full compliance?”

Akram said that the wording of the resolution might provide political cover for some countries but that Pakistan wants to be clear.

“The fuse on the firecracker is a little bit longer now,” he said. “But we have to decide whether we really want to light that fuse.”

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The report by Blix and ElBaradei did little to change minds Friday. Instead, it provided more fodder for each side’s argument over whether it is time to use force to disarm Iraq.

“We are able to perform professional, no-nonsense inspections,” Blix said. But he noted that Iraq’s foot-dragging on providing documents that should have been delivered long ago was disappointing.

Blix said that Iraq has undertaken “a substantial measure of disarmament” by starting the destruction of its proscribed Al-Samoud 2 missiles and that inspectors had been able to interview an increasing number of Iraqi weapons scientists and technicians in recent days.

“We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks,” he said. “Lethal weapons are being destroyed.”

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But he also said that Iraq had failed to deliver documents about its claimed destruction of biological and poison gas weapons in the 1990s. Iraq’s reluctance to come clean on this point had been “a disappointment,” Blix said. “Iraq should be able to provide more evidence about proscribed programs.”

Blix’s deliberate symmetry infuriated U.S. officials, who said that the chief inspector had not made use of intelligence tips they had provided and left key Iraqi weapons developments out of his report to the council.

Blix did not highlight inspectors’ discoveries of large drone aircraft that U.S. intelligence officials think could disperse chemical and biological weapons, one official said. Inspectors had also found cluster bombs that were drilled in a suspicious manner. The revelations were contained in a 173-page document Blix gave to the council that groups unresolved questions about Iraq’s weapons programs into 29 “clusters.”

Germany demanded Friday that Blix and ElBaradei list their top disarmament tasks -- and the time they thought it would take to resolve them -- and report back to the council. Earlier in the week, Germany, France and Russia had proposed pairing the list with a timetable and assessing Iraq’s cooperation after four months.

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What is likely to tip the balance in a deadlocked council is the intense diplomacy occurring in side chambers and hotel rooms about what it would take to unite the majority of the council in response to Iraq.

A surprise proposal offering amnesty for all Iraqi officials who help U.N. agencies circulated informally among council members Friday -- an attempt to win internal support in Iraq for a revolt against Hussein’s regime. Saudi Arabia reportedly initiated the idea, and Arab League foreign ministers discussed it privately with Powell, Blix and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said the British resolution’s sponsors would entertain any proposed changes as long as they retained the substance of the proposal -- full disarmament in a limited time.

But finding a resolution that everyone can sign on to will be the challenge driving the Bush administration. Veto-holders France, Russia and China, along with rotating council members Germany and Syria, have vocally opposed authorizing force without exhausting inspections.

A U.N. diplomat from a veto-holding country said Friday that the draft’s opponents had more support than its sponsors.

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“We only need two more countries to abstain to kill the resolution. No one even needs to veto,” he said.

Despite the joint French-Russian opposition to the resolution, Washington is not writing off Moscow, which might still come around, U.S. officials said.

The big question is how far France will go -- especially if Russia opts to abstain.

“The issue is going to be standing up when it comes time to vote. The French are dug in, but we’ll see what the French do when the moment arrives,” said a senior official traveling with Powell.

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In the meantime, the U.S. believes that the Iraqis have plenty of time in 10 days to be able to prove they are fully complying.

“There are plenty of things they could do -- like drive the mobile biological labs to U.N. headquarters or drop the documents they’re driving all over the place and then let scientists go to the airport and take a plane and fly out,” the senior official said.

“The Iraqis have 10 days to do what they have to do,” he said.

The administration does not plan any last-minute trips to sell the compromise, a counterstrike to a scheduled visit by French President Jacques Chirac to Africa to persuade the African members of the council not to back the resolution.

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“We’re done developing new points to sell our position,” said a well-placed U.S. official who requested anonymity. “On this issue, we won’t beg. We won’t plead. We won’t pander.”

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Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A new proposal

Excerpts of the draft resolution on Iraq presented to the Security Council by Spain, Britain and the United States:

The Security Council ... acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

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1. Reaffirms the need for full implementation of Resolution 1441 (2002);

2. Calls on Iraq immediately to take the decisions necessary in the interests of its people and the region;

3. Decides that Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity afforded by Resolution 1441 (2002) unless, on or before 17 March, 2003, the council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations under Resolution 1441 (2002) and previous relevant resolutions, and is yielding possession to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission [UNMOVIC] and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] of all weapons, weapon delivery and support systems and structures, prohibited by Resolution 687 (1991) and all subsequent resolutions, and all information regarding prior destruction of such items ....

Source: Associated Press

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Los Angeles Times

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Opinions from some of the nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council:

ANGOLA

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“I don’t think it’s the sort of compromise that we were looking for or that we can support, not yet.” -- Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins

BULGARIA

“The cooperation of Iraq remains insufficient.” -- Ambassador Stefan Tavrov

CAMEROON

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“At this stage, the council recognizes that Iraq has not yet taken the final opportunity offered by the council.” -- Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou

CHILE

“The use of force can only be invoked once all peaceful means to disarm Iraq have been exhausted.” -- Foreign Minister Maria Soledad Alvear Valenzuela

GUINEA

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Foreign Minister Francois Lonseny Fall says Guinea is in favor of inspections but understands they cannot go on indefinitely.

MEXICO

Iraq must “rapidly change its attitude.” -- Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez

PAKISTAN

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“The best assurance of success in ensuring Iraq’s disarmament of weapons of mass destruction is the unity of the council.” -- Ambassador Munir Akram

SPAIN

“Disarming Iraq is not a question of more inspectors or more time. This, to quote a French thinker, is merely a strategy of impotence.” -- Foreign Minister Ana Palacio

SYRIA

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Iraq’s destruction of Al-Samoud 2 missiles “is a tangible and material evidence of this cooperation that can neither be considered deceptive nor insignificant."-- Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh

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IRAQ: U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Douri, “It seems that the possibility of a war of aggression being launched on Iraq has become imminent, regardless of what the Security Council decides...”

BRITAIN: Foreign Minister Jack Straw, “The progress that has been reported represents only the tip of the huge iceberg of unfinished business.”

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GERMANY: Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “Peaceful disarmament is possible, and there is a real alternative to war.”

RUSSIA: Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, “Russia is firmly in favor of continuing and strengthening the work of inspectors.”

CHINA: Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, “We are not in favor of a new resolution, particularly one authorizing the use of force.”


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