- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) — President George W. Bush will join British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Sunday in Portugal's Azores to discuss how to win U.N. approval for a new resolution on Iraq, the White House announced Friday.

Later Friday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Al Jazeera television in an interview that the leaders, including Portugal's Prime Minister Manuel Barroso, "will discuss the way forward. They will look to see if there's anything more that can be done to bring the U.N. to take the decision it needs to take."

The on-again, off-again summit, first considered by the Bush administration Thursday, was authorized late Thursday evening. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer ruled out that it is a war council, but instead a chance to discuss the diplomatic issues at the U.N. Security Council. Fleischer said Bush is joining the summit because it is important to U.S. allies and to the president.

Later Rice warned that the allied nations were "in the end game for U.N. diplomacy … this can't go on much longer." She said the time to a decision to use military force against Iraq can no longer be calculated in weeks.

The decision came as the new resolution proposed by the British seemed destined to go down to defeat. Though Bush had pushed for a Security Council vote so each nation would have to take a stand, by Thursday he had agreed to let it pass. Blair was reported by administration sources to believe being rejected by the United Nations was worse than proceeding to war without a resolution beyond Resolution 1441 passed last fall.

Fleischer said the Azores was chosen as the site because it lies between all three nations and was the easiest place for all three leaders to go. It was reminiscent of a meeting early in World War II between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill aboard a U.S. cruiser in the North Atlantic.

The summit will concentrate on how to get U.N. support. If France and Russia do not use their veto, the United States and United Kingdom could win with nine votes. At issue are six undecided nations: Mexico, Chile, Cameroon, Angola, Pakistan and Guinea.

"The meeting is a chance for the co-sponsors of this resolution to speak and to meet. It's for those nations that are standing by 1441 as the sponsors of this resolution to meet," Fleischer said Friday afternoon.

European diplomats in Washington, however, say news of the summit has diverted attention from the United Nations. They say the Bush administration has already decided it will go into action with or without the umbrella of U.N. approval, and continued U.S. diplomatic efforts have been to help Blair's faltering domestic approval.

By late Thursday, Bush administration sources said that if Mexico and Chile would shift, it would bring others. The White House said there are no plans for the six nations that are yet undecided about their vote on the resolution to appear at the summit.

"I'm not aware that it's even an eventuality or a circumstance that anybody else has suggested, let alone the leaders of those nations," Fleischer said.

As the three leaders are set to hold talks, Fleischer said the focus of the resolution has not changed.

"Well, I think there are still two issues that remain in play, that have been at the core of this from the very beginning. One is the complete, total and immediate disarmament of Saddam Hussein, exactly as called for in Resolution 1441, and the other is for Saddam Hussein and all his top leaders to leave the country," he said.

Despite Bush's call for a U.N. vote on Iraq disarmament by Friday, the White House said the president wants to "go the extra mile" and make an additional effort to get the United Nations behind an attack on Iraq.

"We are rapidly approaching the final diplomatic moments. And in the event the president makes the determination that he must go beyond diplomacy and that force must be used, he will, indeed, have much information to share with the American people," Fleischer said.

The new moves would seem to tear up differing timetables for disarming Saddam. The March 17 deadline will pass Monday, and if the British proposal were to be accepted, it would mean no deadline until the end of March.

But Fleischer warned Thursday that despite this possible delay, "the end is coming into sight."

Under discussion at the U.N. is a second proposed resolution that would allow Saddam 10 days from the date it is adopted to disarm and demand that he take a series of steps including a public renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery for some 8,000 liters of deadly anthrax that the U.S. claims he is hiding.

The measure was taken into a U.N. Security Council meeting late Wednesday by British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. The United States is not giving the measure direct support. It is widely viewed here that Bush did not oppose the extension to assist Blair, who faces enormous domestic resistance to attacking Iraq without U.N. backing.

Overnight Wednesday, both France and Iraq said they opposed the Greenstock plan. Fleischer derided France in the briefing, pointing out that it rejected the British idea before Iraq did. "This is not the way to disarm Iraq," he said.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Iraqi regime is surrounded by 250,000 troops including a British contingent of 40,000. Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the force, told Bush last week his troops are ready to attack.

The United States and United Kingdom went to the U.N. late last month for a new resolution to demand Saddam surrender his weapons of mass destruction and set a deadline of March 17 for the Iraqi leader to complete the task. Russia, China, France, Syria and Germany oppose the deadline, and only Britain, the United States, Spain and Bulgaria support it.

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