- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

PARIS, March 5 (UPI) — The foreign ministers of Russia, France and Germany Wednesday announced a united front against any U.N. resolution authorizing war on Iraq, raising the specter of a veto just two days before a key Security Council meeting in New York.

"We will not allow to pass … a resolution that would authorize the recourse to force," a joint statement from the three said.

"Russia and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, will take all our responsibilities on this point," the statement added, an effective veto threat from both countries.

In Washington, U.S. officials maintained that they would get the votes they needed to get a resolution through.

"It's not accurate to leap to any conclusions about how these nations will actually vote when it comes down to it and when the members of the Security Council have to raise their hands and be counted," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

But French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was adamant a resolution authorizing the use of military force — such as the one being drafted by the United States, Britain and Spain — stood no chance of passage at present.

"There will be no new resolution that will bring war against Iraq with the approbation of the Security Council," de Villepin said, during a joint news conference with his German and Russian counterparts.

Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had suggested in London that Moscow might veto a war resolution.

On Wednesday, Ivanov said China shared the position of France, Germany and Russia — although he did not say whether Beijing endorsed the communiqu.

As permanent Security Council members, China, Russia and France can veto any resolution. Germany, holding one of the rotating Security Council seats, has no such authority.

In Washington, Fleischer said that there had been a "lot of guessing" on how many votes the United States would get in the Security Council and that it was speculation the White House had seen before.

"We have seen similar statements made in the past by various officials, and I think the one day we'll know for certain where nations stand is when it comes time to raise hands and vote in the United Nations," Fleischer repeated.

In the joint statement from Paris, the three countries stressed Baghdad's new efforts to comply with U.N. arms inspectors' demands. That included destroying some of Iraq's banned al Samoud 2 rockets, furnishing new information on chemical and biological material and allowing inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists under the United Nation's terms.

In an apparent swipe at the Bush administration, the trio also suggested that U.N. inspections and diplomacy — rather than a war on Baghdad — could turn a new political chapter in the Middle East.

"We're at a turning point," the statement said. "Our objective being the complete … disarmament of Iraq, we have today the possibility to obtain by peaceful methods, a global settlement for the Middle East, beginning with an advance in the peace process."

The statement, and remarks by the three Wednesday, suggested a hardening of Europe's "axis of peace" against any immediate military action.

Baghdad's recent gestures of compliance have been welcomed by France, Germany and Russia — and greeted with skepticism by the U.S. and Britain, which are pushing for military action.

De Villepin offered little encouragement for action by what the United States calls "a coalition of the willing," — a distinct possibility if Washington and its allies fail to win a Security Council vote.

"If some things can be won by war alone," the French foreign minister said, "peace can only be made together with the United Nations."

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