- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday suggested for the first time that Britain might not join the United States in a war against Iraq.
But both allies, reacting to press reports of Mr. Rumsfeld's comments, quickly issued statements insisting that they remained steadfast in the campaign to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks came as Britain pressed the Bush administration for two more weeks to win U.N. backing for military action, support sought by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to counter domestic opposition to a military strike without authorization from the United Nations.
Asked whether "the United States would go to war without Great Britain," Mr. Rumsfeld said, "to the extent that they are able to participate, … that would obviously be welcomed. To the extent they're not, there are workarounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase of it."
The Pentagon later issued a written statement in which Mr. Rumsfeld said:
"In my press briefing today, I was simply pointing out that obtaining a second United Nations Security Council Resolution is important to the United Kingdom and that we are working to achieve it."
"In the event that a decision to use force is made, we have every reason to believe there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom."
In London, Mr. Blair's office told the Associated Press: "This does not change anything. We are still working for a second resolution. We are not at a state of military combat, but there has been complete cooperation between the United Kingdom and the United States throughout on the military planning side."
The United States and Britain agreed yesterday to extend the March 17 deadline for Iraq to avoid war but remained divided on a specific date.
Mr. Blair faces the worst crisis of his leadership, and support for a new U.N. resolution he desperately needs is proving elusive.
The two allies have more than 250,000 troops in the Gulf region, 25,000 of them British. Mr. Blair has committed about 42,000 military personnel to the potential war effort.
A senior State Department official said of the British: "They have told us that for political reasons they need another U.N. resolution, so the goal is to get a resolution."
U.S. and British officials said they expected to have a new amendment to their resolution, co-sponsored by Spain, pushing back a March 17 deadline for Iraq to come into full compliance with U.N. demands.
"We are looking to put together a new text in the next day or so," the senior State Department official said.
U.S. officials said last night that a vote, which the Bush administration had hoped to call for yesterday, is most likely to take place tomorrow or Friday.
Only the United States, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria are certain to support the new measure, and they need five more votes to achieve a majority. But even if they do secure those votes, France and Russia have said they will use their veto powers as permanent members of the Security Council.
"We are looking to adopt changes that are acceptable to others and would commit people to the resolution," the State Department official said.
This is why President Bush, Mr. Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar "have been making phone calls," as have Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his British and Spanish counterparts, Jack Straw and Ana Palacio, the official said.
Even though both Washington and London are willing to extend the March 17 ultimatum, they have not agreed on a date, Security Council diplomats said.
It appeared last night that the British are pushing for March 31, while the Americans would settle for March 21 or March 24 at the latest.
Both countries rejected a 45-day deadline proposed by undecided nations in the 15-member council.
Council members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan hold swing votes, and none has committed to back a second resolution. Pakistan has said it will abstain.
"Don't look beyond March," Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, told reporters.
The State Department official said Washington was willing to push back the deadline "a little" and added that the British are not ready to compromise "as much as people think."
U.N. weapons inspectors, meanwhile, suspended U-2 reconnaissance flights over Iraq for safety reasons after Baghdad said two aircraft flying simultaneously constituted hostile action.
A senior Iraqi official said the United Nations had admitted that having the second aircraft in the air was a "mistake."
But the Pentagon said that under U.N. provisions there was no limit on the number of surveillance planes the allies could fly at any one time.
It said Iraqi fighter jets threatened the two American U-2 planes, forcing them to abort their mission and return to base "in the interest of safety."

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