- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

President Bush will travel tomorrow to Portugal's Azore Islands for a summit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a last-ditch effort to garner support for a faltering U.N. resolution forcing Iraq to disarm or face war.
"In an effort to pursue every last bit of diplomacy, the president will depart Sunday morning for the Azores … to discuss prospects for resolving the situation peacefully with diplomacy in final pursuit of a United Nations resolution," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
"Face-to-face is sometimes the best way to do diplomacy," said Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice
Despite statements Thursday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the United States may abandon a U.N. vote, Mr. Fleischer said the president will follow through on his vow earlier this month to demand that Security Council members "show their cards."
"The president is still committed to this diplomatic process and is still committed to try to push [the resolution] through the United Nations. We shall see if that can or cannot be done," Mr. Fleischer said.
The administration hurriedly arranged the summit as the White House backpedaled from a pledge to hold a vote on the resolution this week. Without U.N. approval of military action in Iraq, Mr. Bush plans to form a "coalition of the willing," which would include Britain and Spain.
The three leaders, all facing domestic opposition to war, are the sponsors of a U.N. resolution that would set the stage for war on Iraq. The measure is the subject of a bitter fight among members of the U.N. Security Council, and its fate is uncertain.
Bush administration officials insisted the triumvirate will not discuss battlefield tactics nor detailed military strategies during the one-day meeting at a U.S. air base at Lajes, on the island of Terceira, located about 2,300 miles from the United States and 900 miles from Europe.
But the leaders are expected to discuss plans for Iraq in any scenario in which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is deposed or forced into exile, which Mr. Fleischer said is still a desired option.
"If the Security Council is able to pass a resolution, much like what has already been discussed by the United States, the British and the Spanish, it is still possible for Saddam Hussein to see the writing on the wall and to get out of Iraq and, therefore, preserve peace," he said.
Tense diplomatic negotiations continued throughout the day yesterday as Miss Rice chastised opponents of U.S. intervention for not doing their jobs.
"Look, this is a difficult decision. We understand that. But there is a certain responsibility that comes with Security Council membership, whether permanent or elected, and we're continuing to talk to people about that responsibility," Miss Rice said.
"But it is time to come to a conclusion that says to Saddam Hussein, 'It is time for you to disarm or be disarmed. It is time for you to finally comply with Resolution 1441, which was one final chance to disarm.' Resolution 1441 wasn't one final chance to be inspected or one final chance to make a little bit of progress. It was one final chance to disarm."
At the United Nations, several Security Council members said they hoped the summit would provide a peaceful compromise.
"If it could in any way contribute to [getting] a consensus on the council, we would welcome it," said Pakistan's ambassador, Munir Akram.
The Azores summit is intended to be a symbolic show of resolve to do everything possible to avoid war, said U.S. officials, even as they conceded that war appears all but inevitable.
Aides said Mr. Bush approved the summit and a brief extension of diplomacy out of respect for Mr. Blair, whose support of Mr. Bush has drawn severe criticism in Britain. But one senior official said the meeting was called in part to shore up Mr. Blair, who is taking a beating in the British tabloids and is wavering in his support.
Amid fresh signs yesterday of Russia and Germany's opposition to a British compromise proposal, a senior administration official told the Associated Press that the United States is waiting for Mexico and Chile to decide.
In a constantly shifting lineup, the two Latin American countries could ensure the nine votes required from the 15-member council for approval provided there is no veto, which both France and Russia have said they would cast.
Washington immediately rejected a new plan put forward yesterday by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, which set out five disarmament conditions for Iraq to meet in three weeks, but did not include a trigger for war.
"That's a non-starter," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Bush yesterday continued his telephone diplomacy on Iraq, calling Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark. In the afternoon, the president planned an Oval Office meeting with Iraqi victims of Saddam's use of chemical weapons on the Iraqi people.
The Azores, which belong to Portugal, are a traditional eastern-Atlantic refueling stop.

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