- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

The Bush administration, sounding increasingly confident it can win a U.N. showdown over Iraq, yesterday rejected a Canadian proposal to give weapons inspectors a few more weeks before forcing a vote on military action.
The plan would give the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein until March 28 to meet repeated U.N. demands to disarm, with a Security Council vote on future action set for three days after that.
A draft resolution offered by the United States, Britain and Spain calls for the 15-nation Security Council to declare Iraq has already failed to meet disarmament demands, clearing the way by mid-March for military action.
France, Russia and Germany back a counterproposal that would give inspection teams up to four months to uncover prohibited weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the Canadian proposal "an effort to bridge differences, but we're already three-quarters of the way across the bridge anyway."
He said Iraq has failed to disarm and "setting another deadline sometime in the future is not going to change that."
Administration officials were also heartened by what Mr. Boucher called "very, very good meetings" this week between top U.S. officials and Alexander Voloshin, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Voloshin was given a top-level reception, meeting with President Bush and administration officials.
Mikhail Margelov, head of the Russian legislature's foreign policy committee, told reporters after testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday that he believed the Kremlin would abstain rather than risk U.S. displeasure with a veto.
But Mr. Boucher declined to predict how a U.N. vote might go, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin sounded equally confident that the United States would not get the nine Security Council votes needed for war.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix bolstered the U.S. case yesterday, telling reporters in New York, "I don't think I can say there is evidence of a fundamental decision" by Iraq to disarm.
But Mr. Blix, who submits a written summary of his efforts to date to the council Saturday, continued to provide fodder for both camps, saying he had detected "increased activity" by officials in Baghdad in recent days to work with U.N. inspection teams.
Meanwhile, Iraqi opposition groups met in a city in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad attempted to reassure delegates that any U.S. military authority of postwar Iraq would give way as quickly as possible to Iraqi control.
Iraq also continued to send mixed signals about the fate of its al Samoud 2 missiles, which the United Nations has ordered Baghdad to begin destroying by Saturday.
Mr. Boucher said the missiles were just one part of a vast arsenal of forbidden weapons of mass destruction that Iraq has failed to account for.
"Given the way they've been dribbling out pseudo-concessions in the past … I suppose one shouldn't be too surprised to see if they cave in the end on the missiles," Mr. Boucher said.
"But let's remember how much of an arsenal Iraq has."


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