- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

The United States, Britain and Spain yesterday introduced a U.N. Security Council measure giving Iraq a March 17 deadline to cooperate fully with disarmament demands, which the White House said would close "the diplomatic window" and offer Saddam Hussein one last chance.
France and Russia immediately rejected the new measure, citing the chief weapons inspectors' report of "proactive" cooperation.
As chances of adopting the new resolution in a vote early next week appeared slim, the White House issued a reminder of President Bush's determination to rid Iraq of illicit arms and of Saddam by military force if the United Nations fails to do it peacefully.
"The 17th will be a date by which this will have to be done," a senior administration official said. "At that point, obviously, the probability is that serious consequences are going to follow for an Iraq that did not carry out its obligations."
"The U.N. would then be closing the diplomatic window on the 17th," added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "At that point, there certainly aren't going to be any more chances for him to disarm. Of course, there's always the chance he might leave the country, which would do everybody a favor."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw accused the Iraqi leader of "trickling out concessions" and "calibrating exquisitely to the pressure he is under in a cynical attempt to divide" the Security Council.
"It may take time to fabricate further falsehoods the truth only takes seconds to tell," Mr. Straw told council members.
While the inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, told the 15-member council of "numerous initiatives" Iraq has undertaken recently to resolve some long-standing issues, they said it "cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation" with Resolution 1441.
Mr. Blix called Baghdad's recent destruction of its banned al Samoud 2 missiles a "substantial measure of disarmament" but did not declare Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction. He did say inspectors could complete their work in months, provided Iraqi cooperation improves.
Although President Bush and his lieutenants have been saying for months that Saddam is in the midst of his "last chance" to disarm, the administration is now placing a hard deadline on the dictator.
The White House decided to set a specific deadline as a way to enlist the support of wavering allies in voting for a final U.N. Security Council resolution next week. It did not say precisely how soon after March 17 that a military strike would commence.
"I can assure you, this is coming to an end in short order," the official told reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "There is not much room to maneuver here because this has been 12 years and we've got to bring this to an end."
At the United Nations, Mr. ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his team had found "no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq" and that documents backing U.S. and British charges that Iraq attempted to import uranium from Niger are "not authentic."
The inspectors' reports were followed by an intense, and at times fiery, debate in the council chamber, which deepened the already sharp divisions between the United States, Britain and Spain on one side and France, Russia, China and Germany on the other.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell argued that Saddam's intent "has not changed" and that he has not made a "strategic and political decision" to disarm fully, immediately and unconditionally, as Resolution 1441 demands.
"Now is the time for the council to tell Saddam that the clock has not been stopped by his stratagems and his machinations," Mr. Powell said.
It was Mr. Straw, rather than Mr. Powell, who took the lead yesterday in impressing upon the council the urgency in which Saddam should be dealt with first by rebutting the highly emotional anti-war arguments of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and then by proposing the March 17 ultimatum.
"It defies all experience to continue inspections with no end date, as suggested" in a memorandum introduced by France, Russia and Germany last week as a countermeasure to the U.S.-British-Spanish new draft resolution, which stated that Iraq has missed its final chance to comply, Mr. Straw said.
But German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he found it "incomprehensible" that, instead of continuing the inspections, the United States and Britain are ready to go to war, which would bring death and destruction to thousands of "innocent people."
"Peaceful disarmament is possible, and there is a real alternative to war," he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said that "there is no reason to shut the door to peace."
Mr. Straw nevertheless formally introduced an amendment to the new draft resolution. It said the Security Council will decide that "Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity afforded by Resolution 1441, unless on or before March 17, 2003, the council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation with its disarmament obligations."
Mr. Powell said the United States backs the text and wants a vote on it early next week. The new resolution will need at least nine votes and no vetoes to pass. Only France threatened to veto it yesterday.
"I believe in the very near future, some time next week, that resolution ought to be brought to the council for a vote. And let's see where everyone is, and I don't believe this just can continue on and on and on," Mr. Powell told reporters after the council meeting.
Mr. de Villepin, who had already spoken when Mr. Straw proposed the amendment, sought an opportunity to express the French position in the press area outside the council chamber.
"Behind his presentation there is the idea of an ultimatum, the 17th of March. This is the logic of war. We don't accept this logic," he said.
"France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of military force," said Mr. de Villepin, who also rejected the Bush administration's declared objective of regime change in Iraq.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he saw no need for a second resolution.
Only Bulgaria supports in general the U.S.-British-Spanish position, and six council members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan are undecided.
Although none of the undecided countries gave an indication of how it will vote next week, the Mexican and Chilean foreign ministers seemed to be slowly leaning toward Washington, London and Madrid.
Despite extreme skepticism from some members of the Security Council, the White House continued to express hope that the resolution will pass.
"There'll be fairly intense diplomacy and discussions over the next several days," the official said. "I don't think we know precisely when we'll call for a vote on the resolution."
In the meantime, the administration sent a veiled warning to members who might be tempted to vote against or veto the measure.
"I will say this: Once this is over, the diplomatic window is over, it will have to be said that the president of the United States did everything that he could to mobilize and unite the Security Council," the official said.
Bill Sammon reported from Washington and Nicholas Kralev from New York.

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