- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday abandoned its insistence that the U.N. Security Council vote by today on a second resolution against Iraq and vowed to disarm Saddam Hussein even without the world body's support.
At the same time, the White House dramatically stepped up its criticism of France, calling it "irresponsible" for threatening to veto the resolution in the event that the United States is able to muster nine votes for its passage.
As those nine votes become increasingly difficult to find, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said there might not be a vote at all.
"The options remain: Go for a vote and see what members say, or not go for a vote," he told a congressional committee.
The remark came one week after President Bush told a prime-time news conference that he would insist on a vote even if it was clear the resolution would be defeated.
"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote," the president said then. "We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council."
He added: "It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."
Until yesterday, the administration had unconditionally insisted that such a vote take place no later than today. But after three days of telephoning world leaders from the Oval Office, Mr. Bush realized that he would need more time to win support for the resolution.
"It could continue into next week," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "As we pursue the diplomacy, there is flexibility."
That was a dramatic change from Tuesday, when Mr. Fleischer said definitively that "the vote will take place this week" and specified today as the end of the week. He repeated that deadline Wednesday.
Despite the shifting timetables and equivocations about whether a vote was necessary, the White House did not budge from the president's earlier assertion that he does not need U.N. "permission" to wage war against Iraq.
"There is no question, based on both international law and domestic law, that the president has that authority," Mr. Fleischer said. "If a diplomatic outcome cannot be achieved, there should never be any question and a doubt of anybody about the president's intent to disarm Saddam Hussein."
Yesterday's about-face by the administration marked a return to Mr. Bush's earlier position that a second resolution is not necessary. The administration had argued for months that the Security Council's first resolution against Iraq, which passed 15-0 in November, cleared the way for war.
As the White House revisited the prospect of waging war without a final U.N. blessing, it lashed out at France for blocking a British compromise resolution late Wednesday.
"They rejected it before Iraq rejected it," Mr. Fleischer said. "If that's not an unreasonable veto, what is? So we look at what France is doing, and we wish they were doing otherwise."
The spokesman dismissed conciliatory overtures from France as politically motivated and intended for domestic consumption.
"France has recognized that its statement that it would veto anything that is put before the Security Council has created problems in France from which they're trying to retreat," Mr. Fleischer said. "You have to look at this as a matter of France trying to figure out how to recover from that statement."
The spokesman also accused France of "inconsistency" by rejecting any U.S. ultimatum on Iraq while asserting its own ultimatum to veto the resolution.
Mr. Fleischer said this position was not "productive" and challenged its "logic," adding that Franco-American relations are now strained.
Furthermore, Mr. Fleischer questioned France's commitment to last year's U.N. resolution, which Paris supported even though the measure promised "serious consequences" if Saddam refused to disarm.
"That resolution demanded that Iraq disarm itself of all weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Bush said yesterday in a White House ceremony with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. "The responsibilities of freedom are not always easy to bear."
Sharing Washington's pessimism, Britain said the chances of securing another resolution were slimmer than ever, after France rejected London's proposal of attaching six specific demands to the document.
Iraq, meanwhile, promised to deliver new reports on its VX nerve gas today and on anthrax a few days later, providing opponents of a war, such as France and Russia, with additional support in arguing that inspectors need more time.
Security Council diplomats said yesterday that the United States, Britain and Spain, co-sponsors of the new resolution, were especially discouraged after France rejected London's list of benchmarks received during a closed council meeting Wednesday night.
The Security Council met again yesterday to discuss London's ideas, which were put forward by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Washington said then that the benchmarks would not necessarily be part of the "resolution package" but could be a separate, non-legally binding appendix to the main document.
Diplomats from the undecided council members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan scrambled yesterday to come up with versions of the proposal they could sell in their capitals.
But Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear, speaking in Santiago, said yesterday that her country could not support a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution paving the way for war with Iraq unless it was modified.
After meeting with President Ricardo Lagos and leaders of political parties, Miss Alvear said, "If we had to vote on the proposal for a resolution that was presented last Friday, Chile would not be accompanying that stance. That means we are not going to support it."
Britain was desperate to find common ground with the undecided members yesterday, saying it would accept changes to its list.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters in London that his government is willing to drop its demand that Saddam make a televised statement about the extent of his weapons of mass destruction.
"If the only issue between us, our partners on the Security Council and Saddam Hussein is whether or not he makes a TV broadcast, then we'd happily drop that," Mr. Straw said.
Also yesterday, Reuters news agency reported that Washington dispatched presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Turkey for talks with Turkish and Kurdish leaders.
A U.S. official said the goal of Mr. Khalilzad's trip was to "get the United States and the Turks and the Kurds together to reach an understanding about how things will work [in northern Iraq], so that they understand each other so there are no problems."
Ankara fears Kurds in northern Iraq could use the chaos of war to declare independence, rekindling separatism among the Kurds of southeast Turkey.

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