- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

LEJAS AIR BASE, AZORES, Portugal, March 16 (UPI) — The leaders at the Azores Summit meeting set Monday as the deadline for the United Nations to act or allow the United States and Britain to disarm Iraq by force.

Although President George W. Bush would not say war would follow immediately, it was clear that action was imminent. Bush said the decision was Saddam Hussein's to make.

"He could decide whether he wanted to disarm and he didn't. He can decide whether he wants to leave the country. These are his decisions to make and thus far he has made bad decisions," Bush said.

Bush and three European leaders briefed reporters after the one-hour meeting. They issued an appeal for the Atlantic alliance to stay together, pointedly arguing how dangerous was the split now with France and Germany at odds with the United States, Britain, Spain and Portugal.

"We urge our friends and allies to put aside differences, and work together for peace, freedom and security. The friendship and solidarity between Europe and the United States is strong and will continue to grow in years to come," the statement said.

Asked if Monday was the last day the motion could be voted on, Bush confirmed "that's what I'm saying." The motion before the United Nations is one offered nearly two weeks ago by Britain, Spain and the United States, which set Monday, March 17, as the final deadline. It was clear Bush planned to treat it as such.

Bush seemed resigned that the United Nations wouldn't come in behind his coalition and said that it could "get its legs, legs of responsibility back" by joining the reconstruction of Iraq. The summit members said they planned to work with the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Portuguese Prime Minister Durao Barroso, before his guests arrived, told local media he felt there was a "less than 1 percent chance" of the meeting among Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Barroso concluding with a way to avoid military action against Iraq.

The United Nations has scheduled a Security Council consultation for 3 p.m. EST on Monday on a joint declaration by France, Germany and Russia that would give Iraq additional time to meet the conditions outlined in Resolution 1441.

U.S. officials say that since the measure offers no enforcement mechanism, it is a non-starter.

Res. 1441, which calls for "serious consequences" should Iraq not fully disclose and dispose of its weapons programs, was passed unanimously in November.

U.N. inspectors and five U.N. Security Council members say Saddam has begun to disarm; the Bush administration claims Iraq is not disarming quickly enough and is still hiding weapons.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the president would make a decision on disarming Iraq by force in the next few days and it was widely accepted at the summit site that the meeting could be the signal for war.

Bush was accompanied to the summit by White House counsel Karen Hughes and Michael Gerson, who have crafted the president's most important addresses and it was speculated that they were working on a war speech for the president. On Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would not confirm that for reporters.

The Azores Summit lasted just over an hour at the Top of the Rock, a U.S. Air Force Club at the highest point on the Island of Tercera, where this combined U.S-Portuguese air base is located.

"There is little reason to hope that Saddam Hussein will disarm," Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "If force is required to disarm him, the American people can know that the armed forces have been given tools and every resource to achieve victory."

The British Broadcasting Corp., citing Spanish news media, also reported Blair initially wanted the Azores summit to be in Hamilton, Bermuda. But Aznar suggested Portuguese territory instead, offering a fourth country to be included in the coalition.

Faced with failure to win support in the U.N. Security Council for a resolution setting a deadline for Iraq, the Bush administration abruptly announced the summit late Thursday.

It was Blair, faced with massive public opposition to the war in his own country, who pressed the United States and Spain to get U.N. approval for a tight deadline and an authorization for military action.

But world public opinion and the hard blockage by France and Russia, which warned that they would veto any resolution that threatened war or set a deadline for military action, has robbed him of that chance.

Until late in the week, the United States felt it might rally enough votes — nine — in the Security Council to show significant support and force one of the permanent members to veto it. But a week of hard arm-twisting left American diplomats unsure that they could even get nine votes.

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