- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) — British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw Friday proposed an amendment to a draft U.N. resolution that would give Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a deadline of March 17 to disarm — and his French counterpart immediately rejected it.

Straw's move at a special session of the U.N. Security Council was the first time in the long and increasingly divisive Iraq debate beginning in the fall of last year that a deadline had been proposed to shut off the weapons inspections.

The battle lines are now drawn over the new U.S.-British-Spanish resolution, which is expected to be voted on next week.

Straw's amended resolution calls for full compliance by the Iraqi regime of last November's U.N. Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to disarm or face grave consequences.

U.S. sources say this was U.N. speak for military action — and there now are 300,000 U.S. and British troops massed on Saddam's doorstep to prove it.

But analysts say the proposal has little chance of passing because three of its opponents — France, Russia and China — are permanent members of the 15-member council with the power of veto. The other two permanent members are Britain and the United States.

On the other side of the confrontation both U.S. and British sources have said they will go to war against Saddam without the United Nation's endorsement if necessary.

That option seemed increasingly likely to observers following Friday's Security Council session.

Asked by reporters whether France would veto the resolution, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin replied, France "will not accept a resolution that will lead to war. You have your answer."

In his report to the council U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said that after a period marked by lack of cooperation, there had been "an acceleration of initiative from the Iraq side" from the end of January.

He said Iraq had begun to destroy al-Samoud 2 missiles with a range exceeding the 150 kilometers (93 miles) permitted by the United Nations. He also said the inspectors had found no evidence of mobile biological units — Western intelligence sources claimed — were moved from place to place to avoid discovery.

But Blix also said he had drawn up a 167-page list of issues on which the inspectors required clarification.

Apparently speaking for the anti-war group — still said to be a majority — de Villepin argued that "significant advances" had now been achieved, and the inspections should continue. He proposed that inspectors should report progress every three weeks, and should draw up "a hierarchy of tasks" to identify priority issues.

Analysts say the British language had been introduced to help Prime Minister Tony Blair, who faces strong opposition in his own party against a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Blair — they say — wants to demonstrate that Saddam has been given every opportunity to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441 before joining any military action. Britain has committed 30,000 men to the Iraq offensive.

A week is the most extra time that President Bush would give Blair. But to quote former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics. The one certainty about the current diplomatic situation is that it's fluid and there are no foregone conclusions.

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