- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (UPI) — U.S. President George W. Bush gave an ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Monday, demanding he leave Iraq or face war, while the United States, Britain and Spain withdrew a U.N. draft resolution from a possible vote.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, after closed-door U.N. Security Council consultations, said that weapons inspectors were being withdrawn from Iraq, along with U.N. humanitarian personnel.

The U.N. Kuwait-Iraq Observer Mission troops put in place on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border after the 1991 Gulf War were also leaving their posts.

While U.N. operations in Iraq were being suspended, the council awaited a report promised for delivery later Monday from the chief weapons inspector on the remaining tasks for Iraq to complete disarmament and council diplomats scheduled a ministerial meeting for Wednesday.

"The diplomatic window has closed," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. He said Bush would address the nation at 8 p.m. EST Monday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told a State Department news briefing that Bush in his address would announce that Saddam had to leave Iraq or face war.

"In his speech, he clearly will issue an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that the only way to avoid the serious consequences that were built into (U.N. Resolution) 1441 is for Saddam Hussein and his immediate cohort to leave the country and to allow this matter to be resolved through the peaceful entry of force, and not a conflict," Powell said.

Powell said Saddam had failed to disarm as required by repeated U.N. resolutions.

"We believe, and I think you have also heard an opinion from British legal authorities within the last 24 hours, that there is a sufficient authority in 1441, 678 and 687, earlier resolutions, for whatever military action might be required," Powell said.

At the United Nations, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said a vote for the Britain-Spain-U.S. draft resolution wouldn't be pursued rather than face a threat of veto in the U.N. Security Council. He didn't identify the nation that was expected to cast the veto, but it was clear he meant France.

The draft required nine votes to be approved but had only the support of the United States, Spain, Britain and Bulgaria. Six other members — Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan — were undecided. France and Russia threatened a veto. Germany, China and Syria also opposed the motion.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — permanent members of the panel — have veto power in the council.

Greenstock said after weekend discussions with council members, the co-sponsors of the draft resolution had decided that "council consensus will not be possible."

He also said that "one country in particular has underlined its intention to veto any ultimatum 'no matter what the circumstances.'

"That country rejected our proposed compromise before even the Iraqi government itself and has put forward a suggestion that would row back on the unanimous agreement of the council" in Resolution 1441 of Nov. 8. "Those suggestions would amount to no ultimatum, no pressure and no disarmament.

"Given this situation, we have agreed that we will not pursue a vote on the draft," he told reporters.

None of the "undecided six" members of the council who refused to disclose any leanings shed any light on their stances.

London's envoy insisted the resolution itself was not withdrawn but was still on the table — it was just that a vote wasn't being sought. However, since the resolution would have called for a determination Iraq had not complied "on or before March 17," Monday, its relevancy would have expired at midnight EST.

After Greenstock's announcement, council members held consultations in an atmosphere of gloom, said one diplomat who attended.

Annan, who sat in on the closed-door consultations along with chief arms inspector Hans Blix, who is UNMOVIC executive chairman, said afterward he told the 15-member panel: "We will withdraw the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and (the U.N. International Atomic Energy) Agency inspectors, we will withdraw the U.N. humanitarian workers, we will withdraw the UNIKOM troops on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border, who are also not able to operate."

The implication of these U.N. withdrawals "will mean that the mandates will be suspended because they will be inoperable," Annan said.

"We cannot, for example, handle the oil for food (program) when we do not have inspectors to monitor the imports, we do not have oil inspectors who will monitor exports of oil, and we don't have the humanitarian personnel who would monitor the distribution — receipt and distribution of the food supplies. So I have informed the council of these suspensions."

Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the Ambassador from France, said the British, Spanish and Americans "took the decision because there was no support in the Security Council for a draft resolution authorizing the use of force.

"And I think the co-sponsors have tried for days and weeks to convince members of the council that the council should authorize the use of force, and the majority in the council thought that it won't be justified."

The Paris envoy also brought up the anticipated Blix report.

"I think that the majority of the delegation wanted to see the program of work, adopt it as soon as possible, and incorporate key remaining disarmament issues," said the Paris envoy. "I hope that the program of work … would be discussed and adopted on Wednesday."

De La Sabliere said there was "a feeling in the council that it is still possible, it would be very helpful that we do our best to try to continue the Iraqi disarmament through peaceful means. It is possible, it is possible to disarm Iraq through peaceful means. It is possible to have the job done by the inspectors."

He said the Wednesday meeting's purpose "would be, and as soon as possible, to adopt a program of work, but also to have the ministers discussing — if there is still a chance to save peace, it has to be discussed at the level of ministers."

Said Ambassador John Negroponte of the United States: "It's been four months now since the passage of 1441, which called on the government of Iraq to immediately and unconditionally disarm. It's clear that after this four-month period that they have failed to comply.

"We sought a resolution that would have stated that Iraq had failed to take advantage of the final opportunity offered to it by Security Council Resolution 1441, but in light of the threat of a veto by one of the countries, even though we think the vote would have been close, we decided under the circumstances not to put that resolution to a vote," Negroponte said.

On Sunday, Bush had said Monday was a "moment of truth for the world" to make a last-ditch effort to avert war. "We concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world," Bush told a news conference in the Azores, joined by the leaders of Britain, Spain and Portugal.

The draft resolution threatened Saddam with war if he failed to disarm Monday.

Arms inspectors were in Iraq seeking proscribed weapons of mass destruction. Their return was mandated by Resolution 1441, which calls for "serious consequences" should Iraq not fully disclose and dispose of its weapons programs.

Washington has been irked by what it regards as a U.N. failure to disarm Saddam. It says the Iraqi leader has a history of lying to the world body and must be disarmed with force if necessary.

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