- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The United States and its allies yesterday delayed a vote on a new U.N. resolution, hoping to secure more support for the measure demanding Iraq's disarmament by March 17 as they faced fresh veto threats from France and Russia.
Meanwhile, U.N. observers deployed on the Iraqi side of the border with Kuwait were reported last night to be withdrawing, and the State Department allowed nonessential diplomatic personnel in Oman and the United Arab Emirates to leave the region.
At the United Nations, diplomats from the sponsors of the new resolution the United States, Britain and Spain said military action could come earlier than the Monday deadline if the Security Council does not approve the resolution in a vote now expected later this week.
"The text was carefully written," one diplomat said. "If the council passes the resolution, it will at least guarantee that no war begins before March 17. But if it rejects it," a strike could occur anytime after the vote.
U.N. sources were quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that an unspecified number of troops from the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission were being moved "for their safety" from the border back to their base at Umm Qasr in Iraq, close to Kuwaiti territory.
Kuwait is providing bases for U.S. forces from where they are expected to open a southern front against Iraq if war breaks out.
With both France and Russia saying they would veto the new resolution, the Bush administration suffered another blow when Pakistan announced that it would abstain. That means five of the remaining six undecided council members must support the resolution for it to achieve a nine-vote majority.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that the vote will not take place today, as some U.S. officials said Friday, although it was never officially scheduled. "It could be any day later," Mr. Fleischer said.
President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other administration officials engaged in a frantic round of diplomacy yesterday to shore up support for the resolution, as did Britain and France.
The White House said Mr. Bush called the leaders of China, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, Nigeria, Oman, Senegal and Spain. Of those, only China and Spain sit on the Security Council, but the other countries are believed by Washington to have influence on their regional representatives on the 15-member body.
"Today is a very busy day of phone diplomacy at the White House," Mr. Fleischer said. The president "is working this issue and making phone calls to the various nations, calling undecided nations, calling other nations, for example, and urging them to call members of the Security Council."
Mr. Powell held a lunch at the State Department for Guinean Foreign Minister Francois Fall, whose country holds the council's presidency this month. The secretary spoke on the phone with Presidents Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Foreign Ministers Ana Palacio of Spain and Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Angola and Mexico are considered undecided, but a Pakistani ruling party official was quoted by wire reports as saying yesterday that Islamabad will abstain. The official said the decision had been made at a dinner meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
Mr. Powell discussed with Mr. Straw and Mrs. Palacio changes in the text tabled on Friday, which demands that Iraq comply fully with Resolution 1441 by March 17.
London said it was open to amending the new text if that would bring more countries on board. Washington is less willing to accept changes, but it feels obliged to help British Prime Minister Tony Blair save face at home, where his public-approval ratings have slipped substantially.
The British U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, said after a three-hour-long council meeting last night that his government and its partners are examining whether a list of specific demands to Iraq should be attached to the resolution.
Diplomats reported minor differences between Washington and London on some specific language and other issues but said they were certain to be worked out.
U.S. and British officials said they had not decided whether they would agree to push back the March 17 deadline, but they made clear they could not guarantee that date would stand. Although they said they still hope to secure nine votes, the officials insisted they had no idea how the vote would turn out.
"We are obviously listening to other governments as we talk to them, and we'll see where we come out on this," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "At this point, I don't want to predict anything either way."
But U.S. officials said the discovery that Iraq has unmanned drone aircraft capable of dispensing chemical weapons and its absence from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's presentation before the Security Council on Friday might influence some of the votes.
Mr. Powell said the finding "should be of concern to everybody," adding that "this and other information shows Iraq has not changed."
Mr. Boucher later told reporters that Iraq has also developed a version of a South African cluster bomb that could disperse chemical weapons over a target.
Iraq insists it has destroyed all chemical warheads.
In the meantime, the anti-war camp in the Security Council stepped up its own lobbying and rhetoric.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac repeated in televised remarks that his country is prepared to veto the resolution, if necessary. His foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, began a whirlwind tour of the three African nations on the council: Angola, Cameroon and Guinea.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in the strongest language to date that Moscow would vote against the new resolution. His remarks provoked a warning from the White House.
"The president would be very disappointed if Russia were to take a stand that would be a setback not only for peace, because it's important to immediately disarm Saddam Hussein, but also for the freedom and the liberty of the Iraqi people," Mr. Fleischer said.
Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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