- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The United States and its allies Monday introduced a U.N. draft resolution, which they hope will obtain enough votes to clear the way for military action if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fails to disarm.

Almost simultaneously, France began to circulate a memorandum calling for a rejection of the resolution and proposing tougher international weapons inspections to resolve the Iraq crisis.

Somewhat against expectations, the U.S. resolution — jointly sponsored by Spain and Britain — does not contain a deadline or any reference to armed conflict. But observers said the text refers to the warning in Security Council Res. 1441 that non-compliance could lead to "serious consequences" for Iraq.

The phrase has been interpreted as the use of force.

Observers said that the United States and other supporters of a tough line against Saddam hoped that by linking the new resolution to Res. 1441, which was passed unanimously by the 15-member Security Council last November, members of the council would find it harder to vote against it.

However, French President Jacques Chirac declared in Paris that there was no need for a new resolution and that the inspections should continue. Weapons inspections were resumed after Security Council approval of Res. 1441.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, France has veto power and — observers believe — might well use it in an attempt to block the U.S.-sponsored resolution. Russia and China, two other permanent members, are expected to follow suit, or at the very least abstain.

Britain and the United States are the remaining two permanent council members.

The appearance of the two documents strengthened the impression that the Iraq crisis was finally coming to a head.

Voting on the U.S.-led resolution is expected on March 10, following a periodic report on March 7 by U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

But observers feel that the real test-date is March 1, when Saddam must demonstrate his willingness to disarm by scrapping Iraq's al-Samoud 2 rockets, which violate U.N. limitations on permissible ranges.

Last Friday, Blix ordered Baghdad to destroy the rockets, which exceed the 93-mile range imposed by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War. So far, Baghdad has said that it will give its answer "quite soon."

The Bush administration is engaged in an intensive campaign to win council votes for the new resolution. Washington needs a minimum of nine votes and no veto for the resolution to pass. So far, the indications are that the United States can count on four votes, in addition to its own.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Beijing last weekend campaigning for China's vote. Before leaving Washington, Powell had telephoned Syria — a non-permanent council member — to press President Bashir Assad to vote for the resolution, and did the same with the leaders of other member countries.

U.N. sources said Monday the original wording of the U.S.-led resolution had been modified to give it broader appeal. The final version was drafted this past weekend by Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and their advisers at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas.

This followed conference calls with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, where Blair was visiting.

The Bush administration and its European allies, including — besides Britain and Spain — Italy, and Portugal, consider the United Nations important to give legitimacy.

Rightly or wrongly, political strategists in London, Rome and elsewhere believe the vote will also calm the groundswell of anti-war opposition that has engulfed their cities.

In Italy, where more demonstrations are expected next weekend, protesters have been staging sit-ins on railroad tracks to block freight trains carrying U.S. military vehicles and other hardware between bases.

On Saturday, anti-war demonstrators paraded through the ancient streets of Prague, even though the Czech Republic and other East European countries were considered pro-American.

But earlier last week, Aznar dropped below the Socialist opposition in the polls for the first time in almost five years, as the Spanish prime minister swam purposefully against the popular anti-war tide towards Crawford, Texas.

As the United States continued its build-up in the Gulf, the voices of protest in Europe grew louder, and Pope John Paul II made another anguished appeal for peace.

"Never again war!," he said, addressing the Sunday noon-time crowd in St Peter's Square from the window of his study. "Never, never, never."

When Blair visited the pope Sunday, Vatican sources said John Paul lectured Bush's closest ally on the importance of resolving the Iraq crisis through international law. The Vatican provided details of what the pope said. A British spokesman said it had been a useful chat.

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