- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Iraq has "failed to take the final opportunity" to meet U.N. demands to disarm, the United States, Britain and Spain said yesterday in a new draft resolution to the Security Council that could prove the final diplomatic gambit before a new war in the Persian Gulf.

But France, in a counterproposal backed by fellow council members Russia and Germany, said U.N. inspection teams in Iraq should be given up to four months to continue their work, arguing that "so far, the conditions for using force against Iraq are not fulfilled."

The sharp divisions have set up a fortnight of intense backroom dealing as a U.S.-led force in the Gulf prepares for a military strike against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that could start as early as mid-March.

President Bush, addressing a gathering of the nation's governors at the White House, said the world had reached "a moment to determine whether or not [the United Nations] is going to be relevant as the world confronts the threats of the 21st century."

But, Mr. Bush vowed, "one way or the other, Saddam Hussein, for the sake of peace and for the security of the American people, will be disarmed."

The new draft resolution sets no deadlines for Iraq to comply, but U.S. officials make it clear that Baghdad is running out of time.

"Saddam Hussein's had plenty of deadlines in his life," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "It's time to deal with this problem."

In Baghdad, Saddam signaled in an interview that he planned to defy a demand by U.N. inspectors that he destroy his arsenal of dozens of al Samoud 2 missiles, a move that could bolster the Bush administration's case in the Security Council.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, speaking in New York before the closed Security Council meeting, said he had told Iraqi officials that they must begin destroying the missiles before the end of the week. Inspectors determined that the missiles' range exceeded the 93-mile maximum imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war.

In an interview aired last night with CBS News anchor Dan Rather, Saddam said flatly that he would not destroy the disputed missiles and challenged Mr. Bush to a one-on-one debate.

Mr. Blix, who reports to the Security Council today and on March 7 about Iraqi cooperation, said, "We have set the date for the commencement of the destruction of these missiles and we expect that to be respected."

The new U.S.-British text lays out in stark, terse fashion the argument that Saddam stands in "material breach" of Security Council Resolution 1441, approved unanimously Nov. 8, demanding that Iraq reveal and dismantle its forbidden chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

The new resolution omits any explicit military threats but calls on the council to act under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which makes it militarily enforceable by member nations. Many U.S. allies, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have pressed hard for the second resolution in the face of heavy domestic political opposition to war.

"Acting under Chapter VII of the charter of the United Nations, [the Security Council] decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441," the critical line in the new resolution concludes.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters in Brussels yesterday that a vote on the new resolution would not be held until at least the second week of March.

"We will be allowing a good period of up to two weeks or maybe a little more before we will ask for a decision," Mr. Straw said. "We want an international consensus."

But French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who rallied the international coalition against war, showed again that such a consensus would be difficult to achieve.

"We see nothing in the current situation which justifies a new resolution," Mr. Chirac said in Berlin after a private meeting with Mr. Schroeder.

Russia, which like France enjoys a veto in Security Council deliberations, also says it does not believe the United States and Britain have made the case for war.

The Bush administration needs nine votes on the 15-member Security Council to pass the resolution, and must avoid a veto from the council's four other permanent members France, Britain, Russia and China. To date, only Bulgaria has said it would back the British-American-Spanish draft, while Germany and Syria are opposed.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell used a previously scheduled trip to Beijing to lobby China to back the new resolution, or at least to refrain from using its veto against the proposal. Chinese officials want the inspections to proceed, but U.S. officials are increasingly confident that China will abstain if a vote is called.

The undecideds in the Security Council include Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan. The council is set to meet Thursday for its first discussion of the new proposals on Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, attending a meeting of nonaligned nations in Malaysia yesterday, accused U.S. diplomats of pressuring undecided nations to back Mr. Bush's hard line.

"It's a carrot-and-stick policy bribery here, pressure there but I think the conscience of people all over the world has said 'no' to Washington's colonialist war policy," Mr. Sabri said.

Pentagon plans received a major boost yesterday when Turkey's government ended a long standoff and said it would send to parliament a proposal to allow the U.S.-led military force to deploy tens of thousands of troops in the country, a move considered critical to supporting a "northern front" in any war against neighboring Iraq.

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