- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) — The White House said negotiations at the United Nations over a new Iraq resolution could continue next week despite President Bush's call for a vote by Friday. But White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer steadfastly refused Thursday to say Bush had abandoned the Monday, March 17 deadline.

Fleischer told reporters at a White House briefing that diplomatic discussions of a new U.N. resolution beyond last fall's Resolution 1441 were ongoing and could continue Friday, into the weekend and perhaps into the following week.

Asked why Bush was abandoning his call for a vote by Friday, Fleischer said this was a "a sign of how seriously the president views the importance of diplomacy" and that Bush is committed to "going the extra mile" to avoid using force.

But the press secretary warned that despite this possible delay, "the end is coming into sight."

Under current discussion at the U.N. is a second proposed resolution that would allow Saddam Hussein 10 days from the date it is adopted to disarm. It also demands that he take a series of steps including a public renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery for some 8,000 liters of deadly anthrax that the U.S. claims he is hiding.

The measure was taken into a U.N. Security Council meeting late Wednesday by the United Kingdom's Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. The United States is not giving the measure direct support. It is widely believed here that Bush did not oppose the extension to assist British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who faces enormous domestic resistance to attacking Iraq without U.N. backing.

Overnight, both France and Iraq said they opposed the Greenstock plan. Fleischer derided France in the briefing, pointing out that it rejected the British idea before Iraq did. "This is not the way to disarm Iraq," he said.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Iraqi regime is surrounded by 250,000 troops including a British contingent of 40,000. Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the force, told Bush last week that his troops are ready to attack.

The United States and United Kingdom went to the U.N. late last month for a new resolution to demand Saddam Hussein surrender his weapons of mass destruction and set a deadline of Monday for the Iraqi leader to complete the task. Russia, China, France, Syria and Germany oppose the deadline and only Britain, the United States, Spain and Bulgaria support it.

This opened a week of furious diplomatic maneuvering at the U.N. and in the capitals of scores of nations to persuade a middle group of undecided countries to take a stand. Bush has held daily telephone discussions with foreign leaders. Undecided are Cameroon, Pakistan, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Angola.

If nine members of the Security Council vote in favor, a resolution is adopted, but it then can be stopped by a veto by a permanent member. France has said it will veto any new resolution with a deadline. But the United States has continued to seek the support of the other members and Bush has said each nation should have to stand up, vote and take a position.

By Wednesday night, the U.S. did not have nine votes, according to well-placed sources. This would pass beyond Bush's March 17 Iraq disarmament deadline.

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