- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — Three of President George W. Bush's strongest European allies were engaged in a diplomatic effort Thursday to persuade him to agree to a last ditch U.N. resolution on Iraqi disarmament, but a senior EU official in Washington said, "I don't think Bush is listening."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had talks with President Bush at the White House Thursday, told reporters at the Italian Embassy later that the proposed new resolution would extend the U.N. inspectors' mandate "but we cannot talk of months, we can talk of weeks."

The proposed new time frame, he said, "is shared by President Bush and (the European leaders), and includes a new U.N. resolution" warning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm.

But replying to questions, Berlusconi stopped short of saying that Bush had agreed to a second resolution extending the search, and other European officials in Washington said the U.S. president's view was unchanged.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to deliver hitherto secret evidence of Iraq's illegal weapons programs and contacts with terrorist organizations at a session of the U.N. Security Council on Feb 5. U.N. sources said Thursday the Bush administration favors a meeting the same week to decide on what action to take.

Though Bush told Berlusconi that he considered "war as a last resort," the White House does not want to let the inspection phase drag on before taking decisive action so as not to allow opposition at home to mount.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to arrive in Washington Thursday on a similar mission to Berlusconi's. "I believe that if the inspectors indicate that Saddam is refusing to cooperate, then I think the implication of U.N. Resolution 1441 is clear that there should be a second resolution," Blair said Thursday.

Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council last November, called for "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unobstructed access" to Iraqi chemical and biological weapons storage sites and manufacturing facilities. The United States charges that Saddam Hussein has not complied with the resolution.

Blair also added that, "If the process of disarmament can't happen through the U.N. inspectors, then it will happen by force." The growing point of difference between Bush and his allies is when arms inspections give way to armed conflict.

Blair, who like other European leaders faces growing public opposition at home to supporting a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, is expected to tell Bush at the presidential weekend retreat at Camp David, Md., that — as he said Thursday — "The inspectors have got to have the time." He did not give a specific timescale, but European sources say the accepted extra time considered reasonable in EU circles is six weeks.

Blair flew to Washington after meeting in Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar where they discussed the Iraq crisis. At a joint news conference, Aznar called for a second U.N. resolution, "where the Security Council makes the decision as to what step is to be taken next."

The round of top-level talks continues next week with Berlusconi flying to Moscow on Monday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Blair holding talks with President Jacques Chirac in France. France and Germany have spearheaded opposition to an attack on Iraq, and Putin has expressed reservations about timing of an attack.

A senior European official in Washington said the Blair/Berlusconi/Aznar initiative has a second objective, and that was to is to persuade the French to agree to "a resolution that would have terms of provision to act" and not simply a reference to serious consequences if Saddam again failed to comply. Now it was time, "to show some teeth," he added.

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