- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 16 (UPI) — The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed-door consultations on Iraq for Monday — the afternoon of the day of decision delineated by U.S. President George W. Bush in the message he delivered following Sunday's Azores summit.

The session was to begin at 3 p.m. EST. A U.N. spokesman said that the meeting officially was to take up a proposed "Joint declaration from France, Germany and Russia regarding Iraq."

Oddly enough, it was not requested by Britain, Spain or the United States, the three nations whose leaders met in the Azores and decided that Monday would be the final day for diplomacy before an allied attack on Iraq.

Council diplomats said Berlin requested the session Saturday. They also said a ministerial meeting was sought for Tuesday, the very day chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was expected to hand in a roughly 30-page "program of work" for Iraq to follow to totally disarm. That task list was expected to take a few months to complete. Blix was expected to attend the Monday session.

Since the request, according to diplomatic sources, was put in Saturday evening and approved Sunday by Ambassador Mamady Traor of Guinea, this month's president of the 15-member panel, the council appears to be moving at its own pace, even if, as Bush told a post-summit news conference, it needs to get its "legs" back.

Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso of Portugal and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain spoke with reporters after the summit in the Portuguese-held mid-Atlantic islands.

The wheels of diplomacy churn slowly but relentlessly at world headquarters, always with hope of discovering some compromise, some "back door" for another set of talks.

The upcoming session takes place with the council deadlocked. The U.K.-U.S.-Spanish draft resolution carrying a March 17 deadline — Monday — requires nine votes to be approved. But the alliance only has the support of Bulgaria.

Six other members — Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan — said they were undecided. France and Russia have threatened a veto. Their stance is supported by China and Syria.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — permanent members of the panel — have vetoes.

However, there was the latest stance of French President Jacques Chirac, who was apparently modifying his threat of a veto to any council resolution authorizing force against Iraq, for diplomats to focus on. He said: "One month, two months, I am ready to accept any accord on this point that has the approval of the inspectors."

Entering U.N. headquarters on Sunday afternoon, Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, told reporters he was watching the situation — along with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — "hour by hour."

This was an apparent reference to the Bush message: "We concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world. Many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security, and now they must demonstrate that commitment to peace and security in the only effective way: by supporting the immediate and unconditional disarmament of Saddam Hussein."

Maintaining that UNMOVIC was not evacuating Iraq, Blix said he was in close touch with Annan, who also has staff in Baghdad, because "the welfare of our staff is paramount."

Said Blix: "We have a little more time today and tomorrow."

He said there were "something like 140-150" inspectors still in Iraq, a few less than average because they were in a three-month rotation period. Some of the inspectors, who work seven days a week, elected to take a second three-month contract. They get a brief respite between contracts.

Asked about an invitation from Baghdad to return to Iraq accompanied by Mohammed ElBaradei, executive director of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Blix said: "We will think about it. I don't think we can exclude it."

Blix said: "We went in mid-January and mid-February and the Iraqis seem to think mid-March would be appropriate," but "we are in a different situation and it has to be considered more carefully."

His take on the Bush-Blair-Aznar remarks, notably, showed up the differences between them.

"President Bush talked about preparations for Iraq and its use of weapons of mass destruction," while "Blair and Aznar were talking about the possibility of bringing together some consensus in the United Nations around a solution which would expect a declaration from President Saddam (Hussein) himself — that he has disarmed — and at the same time concrete steps to demonstrate some kind of down payment on disarmament."

Said Blix: "I didn't feel there was an ultimatum — that it was before a certain time you should do something," adding: "I certainly felt that the situation was very, very fragile."

It was also learned Sunday that a long-sought report from Iraq received Friday had been translated, said an UNMOVIC spokesman. While the 25-page report was described as "half in Arabic," what it said was not released.

The spokesman, Ewen Buchanan, also said Sunday owners of five helicopters leased by the arms inspectors in Iraq had ordered the aircraft to leave because of the threat of war. He said the craft had lost their insurance coverage and had been moved to neighboring Syria.

The spokesman said the choppers were the smaller in a fleet of eight helicopters UNMOVIC leased from outside companies for use in Iraq. Their departure left three large Russian-built troop transport-size helicopters as the only ones for UNMOVIC inspectors.

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