- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

The United States and France continued to lobby allies over their respective positions on Iraq, and one of British premier Tony Blair's top ministers threatened to resign if Britain entered a military conflict against Iraq that did not have U.N. approval.

In television appearances Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said of the 15 Security Council members, at least nine or 10 would vote in favor of the use of force against Iraq. But to achieve this target, he said, the United States would be engaged in "intense negotiations over the next couple of days."

He also said Washington had no "no plans to change" the March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm.

By that date Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "will be seen to have lost his last chance to comply and I think everyone knows what that means… it's time to force compliances with the use of military force," Powell said.

The five veto-wielding, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are split over the possible use of military force to disarm Iraq. The United States and Britain favor that approach, while France, Russia and China support more time for U.N. weapons inspections.

Washington says if the United Nations does not act against Iraq, it will do so alone with a "coalition of the willing."

Last week, the United States, Britain and Spain presented a draft resolution to the Security Council seeking its endorsement for the use of force to disarm Iraq. France, Russia and Germany oppose the use of force and Paris has indicated it may use its veto to prevent a possible U.S. invasion.

Powell said Sunday a French veto would have a "very serious" impact on short-term relations between the two countries.

France, meanwhile, tried to appeal to three of it allies in Africa, all of who are at present non-permanent members of the council.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was on a whirlwind trip to Angola, Cameroon and Guinea to appeal to all three to vote against another U.N. resolution against Iraq.

A spokeswoman at the French Foreign Ministry offered few details about the trip Sunday, other than to note that Iraq was the subject of de Villepin's upcoming meetings "with the highest officials in those governments."

It is unclear whether the three African countries will ultimately side with the French or U.S. positions. In his address Friday, for example, the foreign minister of Guinea — which heads the Security Council this month — offered mixed signals.

While Guinea is "in favor of the continuation of inspections, it is of the view that these cannot go on indefinitely," Guinea Foreign Minister Francois Lonseny Fall said.

Guinea and Cameroon are former French colonies and receive substantial foreign aid from Paris. Guinea's majority Muslim population also appears staunchly opposed to war. But all three African countries enjoy budding trade, aid or defense ties with the United States.

In Britain, Clare Short, international development secretary, told the British Broadcasting Corp. she will resign if Britain enters a U.S.-led war that does not have U.N. approval.

"If there is not U.N. authority for military action or the reconstruction of the country, I will not uphold a breach of international law or this undermining of the U.N.," she said. "I will resign from the government."

The statement is the latest in a series of blows Blair has received from his ruling Labor Party, many of whose members oppose military action.

Meanwhile, protests continued worldwide against a possible war.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Czech Republic.

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