- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 7 (UPI) — Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to deliver an update Friday on Iraqi disarmament to the 15-member Security Council against a backdrop of looming war and diplomatic strain.

The foreign ministers of each of the permanent five seats, five others among the rotating seats, two deputy foreign ministers and three permanent representatives to the United Nations are expected to attend.

Blix, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, is to be accompanied by Executive Director Mohammed ElBaradei of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency in reporting recent developments to the council.

They are expected to highlight Iraq's dismantling of several dozen al-Samoud 2 missiles, deemed by UNMOVIC experts to have the capability of exceeding the 92-mile limit imposed by the council.

Their report is due to begin at 10 a.m. EST in an open session, followed by closed discussions with council members in the afternoon.

The threat of war comes from a draft resolution tabled Feb. 24 by Britain and co-sponsored by the United States and Spain. It is supported by Bulgaria, and argues that Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441. That motion, passed unanimously by the council Nov. 8, authorized the return of weapons inspectors after a four-year hiatus and promised Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "serious consequences" if he and his regime did not cooperate. The inspectors were to ensure Iraq had dismantled its weapons and technology of mass destruction, as Saddam had agreed to do in the armistice agreement that ended the 1991 Gulf War.

The new resolution faces stiff opposition and appears unable to garner votes, particularly under the threat of a veto from France, Russia or possibly China. Those three countries, in addition to the United States and Britain, wield veto power as the council's permanent members.

In Washington Thursday, President Bush said the United States would force a vote on the issue even if it did not have the required number of votes.

"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for a vote," he said. "It's time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary have made the diplomatic rounds in the last two weeks among their counterparts with little outward effect. China and its foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, have remained noncommittal at best, while both Russia's and France's foreign ministers, Igor Ivanov and Dominique de Villepin, have strongly urged expanding the role and numbers of inspectors instead.

Sitting near the top of the gold-hued horseshoe-shaped table Friday will be U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who Thursday told reporters the positions on British-U.S.-backed draft "war" resolution "are very hard now."

He spoke of "several proposals on the table," apparently referring to a France-Germany-Russia "memorandum" and a Canadian list of possibilities. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also said Thursday there was the "possibility" of amending the resolution.

Straw told reporters at a U.N. news conference that in presenting the new resolution, "we obviously attached to the principles set out and to the inevitable conclusion that Iraq has missed its final opportunity."

But he immediately went on to say: "Of course we were ready to discuss the wording of that second resolution and welcomed to take on board any constructive suggestions as to how the process set out in that draft resolution could be improved," and added that he looked forward to "further discussions."

Annan tried to set the tone of the sessions by saying that, despite the tension, members of the council "will all have a chance to discuss this calmly."

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