- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 14 (UPI) — Sunday's scheduled summit between President Bush and the leaders of Britain and Spain, his closest allies, has overshadowed frenetic diplomatic moves in the U.N. Security Council to find a compromise solution to the Iraq crisis, diplomats said Friday.

The hastily arranged summit in the Azores will center on whether Bush, Britain's Tony Blair, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar should push for a Security Council vote on a draft resolution introduced by Britain or withdraw it without a vote.

Observers think it unlikely that the resolution which actually gave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein until March 17 — that is, until Monday — to disarm will obtain the nine votes required to be adopted by the 15-member council. But that issue is virtually moot since France and Russia — two of the five permanent council members along with the United States, Britain, and China — are threatening to use their power of veto.

Shortly after the news of the summit, Bush announced that recent political developments may have produced the "moment" to put into action the "roadmap" to peace in the Middle East. The long-delayed roadmap was created by the so-called quartet — United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

Bush said the roadmap would be delivered to the Israelis and the Palestinians once the appointment of the first Palestinian prime minister had been confirmed.

Earlier this month, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nominated Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, for the post, but observers noted that Abu Mazen — a key figure in shaping the Oslo agreement — has yet to accept the appointment.

"Israeli and Palestinian leaders and other governments in the region now have a chance to move forward with determination and with good faith," Bush said in a brief Rose Garden announcement.

Palestinian Authority officials called Bush's announcement "positive and constructive," while Israel spoke more cautiously of "discussions" once the Palestinians take the first step.

About an hour after the White House announcement, Blair spoke with reporters in London.

Asked why the announcement came now — in the midst of a diplomatic crisis over Iraq's disarmament — the British prime minister replied, "I think precisely now is when we do have to focus. We say to the Arab world we accept the obligation of even-handedness. We say peace between Palestinians and Israelis is as important to us."

The roadmap is a step-by-step sequence of developments leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Phase one calls for a halt to attacks on Israelis by Palestinian extremists, and halting the creation of Israeli settlements in predominantly Palestinian areas.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer described the Azores summit as a chance to discuss the diplomatic issues at the United Nations. However, observers said the Bush administration was making an all-out effort to shore up the position of Blair, who is facing strong opposition at home for his determination to go to war against Iraq.

Blair now believes that a "no" vote on his resolution was worse than proceeding to war without any vote.

The timing of Bush's revival of the Middle East roadmap, which has languished on the shelf for months, was also designed primarily to help Blair. The prime minister's critics say that in going after Saddam the Bush administration has got its priorities wrong, and the urgent issue is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

That London proposal called for Saddam to broadcast and publish in Arabic a renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, allow interviews outside the country with U.N. weapons inspectors, account for thousands of liters of anthrax or its destruction and credible evidence of other biological weapon destruction; accounting for drones, surrender of mobile chemical and biological facilities and continued destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles.

The measure was taken into a U.N. Security Council meeting late Wednesday by British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. The United States did not give the measure direct support, because, as Ambassador John Negroponte put it, he wanted to see what "traction" among other council members before abandoning the draft resolution introduced March 7 introduced by London and co-sponsored by Washington and Madrid.

Russia, China, France, Syria and Germany oppose the deadline measure and only Britain, the United States, Spain and Bulgaria support it. The undecided six are Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan.

A second draft resolution introduced Friday by Chile was a watered down version of the Britain proposals that would not require a TV appearance by Saddam, and would take the form of a non-binding Security Council presidential statement, instead of a resolution.

However, Fleischer immediately shot the Chilean initiative out of the water, calling it "a non-starter."

But diplomats said the endgame was now likely to be decided, not in the Security Council, but on a windswept island in the middle of the Atlantic.


(UPI International Editor Roland Flamini in Washington contributed to this story.)

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