- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) — President George W. Bush will meet the leaders of Britain and Spain, his closest allies, Sunday to decide whether to act without the United Nations in the Iraq crisis, officials in Washington said Friday.

The main question facing Bush, Britain's Tony Blair, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as they meet in the Atlantic group of islands of the Azores, the diplomats say, is whether to try to salvage the troubled draft U.N. resolution in the Security Council, or to withdraw it to avoid a negative vote.

The joint U.S.-British-Spanish resolution declares Iraq is in material breach of his disarmament obligations and gives Saddam Hussein a deadline of March 17 — next Monday — to show he is earnest about disarming or face military action.

On Thursday, the United Nations was a maelstrom of diplomatic activity as the United States and its allies tried to ensure the nine "yes" votes required in the 15-member council for the resolution to be adopted, while French, Russian and other delegates campaigned against the measure.

France, Germany and other countries favor extending the time for a strengthened U.N. weapons inspection team to continue to search for weapons of mass destruction before considering further action. Said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Friday, "Make inspections, not war."

France has indicated that it will exercise its power of veto as permanent council member (along with the United States, Russia, China and Britain) — which makes the nine-vote requirement moot.

Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened the possibility that the United States will withdraw the resolution in preference to seeing it defeated. No vote at all would be preferable to a "no" vote for Blair who faces strong opposition even in his own Labor party to Britain's involvement in a war against Iraq.

Britain has deployed 45,000 troops in the Gulf alongside the U.S. force of about 250,000.

European diplomats in Washington say news of the summit has diverted attention from the United Nations. They say the Bush administration has already decided it will go into action with or without the umbrella of U.N. approval. Its continued diplomatic efforts have been to help Blair.

On Friday, President Bush read out a statement at the White House, which the diplomats said would also help Blair at home. Bush said the administration would unveil the Middle East Road Map, a collection of new peace measures, once the Palestinians had confirmed the appointment of a new prime minister.

Analysts said Bush's statement — which made no reference to Iraq — brought back to the front burner the nagging concern in the Middle Eastern region.

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