- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) — Both proponents and opponents of war against Iraq are ratcheting up their drive for votes on the U.N. Security Council as the U.S. prepares to introduce a final Iraq resolution.

After meeting with Guinea's Foreign Minister Francois Fall in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to calm rising tension between France and the United States over the competition for votes expected this week in the U.N. Security Council.

"I'm in no competition with (French Foreign Minister) Dominique de Villepin," Powell told reporters. "He does what he has to do, and I do what I have to do. We are both working for causes we believe in, we are both trying to consult with all the members of the council."

De Villepin on Sunday left for a tour of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea in an effort to persuade the three African votes on the Security Council to support the French, German and Russian position of extending inspections in Iraq and opposing an automatic declaration of war by the United Nations. The United Kingdom's minister for African affairs, Baroness Amos, was expected back in London this week from a trip to the three countries.

U.S. President George W. Bush will likely need the three countries: last week, he said he would call for a vote on a U.S-U.K. proposal that would set a March 17 deadline for Iraqi disarmament. With France, Syria, Russia, China and Russia all intending to vote against that resolution, the United States can only afford to lose two of the remaining swing votes on the council.

French President Jacques Chirac said Monday in a television interview that his country might exercise its veto in the Security Council, adding that under any conditions, France would vote against the U.S.-U.K. proposal.

"No matter what the circumstances we will vote 'no,'" he said.

In the interview, Chirac said the United States did not have the nine votes in the 15-seat Security Council need to pass its resolution. This prediction flew in the face of optimism from senior American officials Sunday, including Powell, who told Fox News he believed he was "striking distance" from gaining passage for the resolution.

After meeting with the Guinean foreign minister, Powell's spokesman Richard Boucher described the meeting as "a very good discussion." However Boucher would not say whether Powell locked up the Guinean vote.

Powell has also telephoned the heads of state in Pakistan and Angola, two other swing votes on the council.

Powell's efforts may have been bolstered Monday with new information coming from the U.N. weapons inspectors indicating Iraq had developed special war heads capable of disseminating biological and chemical weapons.

"I think we should be concerned," Powell said. "It seems to me that this information on the drones, which I know UNMOVIC was evaluating, but it was information that was available last week, and should be of concern to everyone," he said, referring to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

Meanwhile, the strongest ally of the United States might be backing away from the March 17 deadline. Under increasing pressure from his own party, and the first formal threat of resignation from one of his government's ministers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said Monday his government would be open to extending the deadline.

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