- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) — Pakistan said Monday it has not yet decided how it would vote on the second U.S. resolution on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.

"We are still hoping for a peaceful solution," Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram told United Press International.

Earlier reports had said that Pakistan has decided to abstain in any Security Council vote that would pave the way for war in Iraq. Pakistan is a non-permanent member of the 15-member Security Council, which is being asked to vote on a new resolution seeking U.N. endorsement for a U.S. military offensive against Iraq.

Pakistan is a close U.S. ally in the war against terror and also depends heavily on economic and diplomatic support from Washington, particularly in its disputes with its larger neighbor and nuclear power, India.

However, it is also a large Muslim nation with a strong and effective religious undercurrent. In the last general elections in October, religious parties captured almost one-fourth of the seats in the lower house of parliament and retained this position in the Senate elections late last month.

Observers say that because of its close ties to the United States, Pakistan cannot vote against the U.S. move to forcibly disarm Iraq. It can, however, choose to abstain when the United States calls for a hand count in the Security Council.

But Pakistani officials also have indicated that if the United States succeeds in persuading other nations to vote for its resolution, Islamabad will be willing to come along.

Talking to UPI, Pakistan's permanent representative in the United Nations, Munir Akram, said Pakistan had not yet decided how to vote. "We will decide at the last moment, taking into account all the factors."

He said the endgame for the resolution has not yet been played out. "There are likely to be some moves at the last moment to try and see if a confrontation can be avoided."

U.S. officials had said earlier they hope to put the resolution to vote on Tuesday but Akram said: "A Tuesday vote is very unlikely." "It will take a few more days," he added.

Akram said so far he had received "no instructions from Islamabad on how to vote."

"We will wait and see what new moves are made, who are the sponsors and how they react."

He said there are proposals to "attach some benchmark" to assess Iraq's compliance "while others are suggesting giving Iraq some more time."

Asked if the United States had enough votes to get the resolution passed, the Pakistani envoy said: "If they have the votes, they will put the resolution to vote."

He said it was wrong to say that Pakistan was facing intense pressure from the United States to vote in its favor.

"We will make our own decision," said the Pakistani envoy, adding, "Pakistan has its own considerations."

"We have our domestic opinion, our relations with the United States" to consider before deciding how to vote. "We will also consider the merits of the case."

He suggested that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflict should first be tried "and exhausted before going to vote."

Asked if the United States had indicated extending the deadline for Iraq to disarm, Akram said, "In diplomacy, deadlines are often negotiable."

Last week, the United States, Britain and Spain presented a second resolution before the Security Council saying that since Iraq has failed to comply with earlier U.N. resolutions asking it to disarm, it has become necessary to use force to disarm Baghdad.

On Friday, Britain also set a March 17 deadline, saying that a failure to observe the deadline would automatically justify the use of force against Iraq.

France, Germany and Russia oppose the military option saying that Iraq should be given more time to comply. China and Syria also support this move.

The groups opposed to the military option say that Iraq may not have complied 100 percent with the U.N. resolution but the arms inspection process is working. The inspectors have reported progress and, therefore this process deserves more time, they argue.

The United States and its allies counter this argument by saying that U.N. resolutions call for a full and complete compliance, which Iraq has failed to do, making military action necessary.

To pass, a resolution requires nine yes votes and no vetoes from the council's five permanent members — France, Russia, Britain, China and the United States.

France has already indicated that it would use its veto power if the United States insists on using force to disarm Iraq.

But both pro- and anti-war factions in the United Nations feel that they can make it difficult for their opponent to vote against their respective positions if they win over nine or more of the 15 votes.

This has increased the importance of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, forcing both the United States and France to lobby hard to win them over.

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