- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

NEW YORK The United States and France were locked in a last-minute race yesterday for U.N. Security Council votes that could make or break international support for war against Iraq.
As Washington worked the phones, the French foreign minister headed to Africa to try to persuade undecided council members to reject a U.S.-backed resolution that gives Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a March 17 ultimatum to disarm or face war.
U.S. diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States would announce today that it will seek a council vote tomorrow.
John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has told the council members to be ready to cast their votes by tomorrow leaving Washington with less than 48 hours to round up enough support.
French President Jacques Chirac sought to raise the stakes during the weekend by calling for heads of state, including President Bush, to attend the Security Council vote, saying the leaders should take personal responsibility for a "life or death" decision.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said he sees no reason for Mr. Bush to attend the session, but German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder voiced support for the idea yesterday.
French officials said the proposal was not aimed at isolating Mr. Bush and that he stood to gain from attending the session, which effectively would be turned into a mini-summit on Iraq.
Key swing voters on the Security Council, such as Mexico and Pakistan, are expected to support the United States but are asking for a few more days to negotiate a deadline beyond the March 17 date proposed by Washington.
Cameroon, a former French colony, also signaled it was ready to support the U.S. resolution. American diplomats said they were now concentrating on council members Angola, Chile and Guinea, whose foreign minister will visit Washington this week.
The French have mounted a last-ditch bid to defeat the resolution, with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin setting out on a trip to Angola, Cameroon and Guinea yesterday.
"France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force," Mr. de Villepin said before leaving Paris.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who faces strong domestic opposition to war without U.N. approval, spoke by phone yesterday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who said every effort must be made to avoid war, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
But Beijing has refused to say that it would veto the U.S.-British deadline proposal.
Mr. Blair has problems at home, where one legislator with the prime minister's ruling Labor Party announced his resignation amid the Iraq crisis. Four more could quit if Britain goes to war without U.N. backing.
A new poll showed that 15 percent of Britons supported an attack on Iraq without a second U.N. resolution.
Russia, which has backed France, yesterday stressed its desire for continued good relations with Washington.
"We are striving to find a common language with the United States, England and other countries," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told Russia's NTV network. "We have never tried to inflame the conflict."
A third track of diplomacy backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan aimed at forcing a revolt in Iraq or coaxing Saddam into exile was quietly picking up steam through Muslim channels.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in remarks published yesterday that the quickest way to resolve the Iraq crisis was for Saddam to step down.
An Arab delegation planned to travel to Baghdad in the coming days to try to avert a U.S.-led war against Iraq, Egypt's foreign minister announced.

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