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UN: Security Council Support For Iraq Ultimatum Remains In Doubt

  • Robert McMahon

The United States and Britain have postponed their initial date for a UN Security Council vote on whether to authorize military action against Iraq, but there were no signs of a compromise emerging in the council. The vote is now likely to be later this week, but support is uncertain amid new veto threats from France and Russia. Meanwhile, the six undecided states were working on a last-minute plan to try to bridge the differences on the council.

United Nations, 11 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and Britain have delayed a vote for their draft resolution that sets a 17 March ultimatum for Iraq to disarm and indicated they may be open to changes in the measure.

The two countries had intended to ask for a vote today in the UN Security Council, but their UN representatives said it would be rescheduled to later in the week. The change comes at a time of intense diplomacy in which opposing Council factions are seeking to win the votes of six undecided members.

Most of those six states have said they favored further inspections and establishing benchmarks to measure Iraqi compliance.

Council members held consultations with UN inspectors late yesterday. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters afterward that his government is studying whether to set up a list of disarmament tasks, which it would then discuss with its resolution's co-sponsors, the United States and Spain:

"We are examining whether a list of tests of Iraqi compliance would be a useful thing for the council. We are examining 'whether.' It doesn't mean to say that we have reached any conclusions to that, but there is clearly an interest in that area, and we are looking at it, and we will come back to the council if there is any conclusions to that."

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said consultations are under way. But neither U.S. nor British officials have so far signaled they are willing to move beyond the deadline set for Iraqi compliance.

The draft sponsored by Britain, the United States, and Spain says Iraq has until 17 March to show it has demonstrated "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation" with its disarmament obligations. The measure implies military action if Iraq does not comply.

So far, only Bulgaria has joined in support of the measure. It would require five more affirmative votes and no vetoes from the permanent five members to gain council backing.

But yesterday, France and Russia issued their clearest statements yet that they would vote against the resolution. In separate statements, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and French President Jacques Chirac said the disarmament of Iraq could still be accomplished through peaceful means.

The fifth permanent member, China, is expected to abstain. Germany and Syria appear certain to cast "no" votes.

Among the undecided states, there were signs yesterday that some were uncomfortable with the deadline in the U.S.-backed draft.

Angola's UN ambassador, Ismael Gaspar Martins, told reporters his government would prefer a change in the timing of the ultimatum: "We would like to see definitely some flexibility on the timing. We agree that Iraq needs to be disarmed. That must be done as a decision taken by a united council, to be a message that can be taken seriously by Iraq."

Reports from Pakistan quoted sources from the ruling party as saying the government has decided to abstain. But Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, told reporters that no decision had been made yet on how his country would vote: "We will vote in accordance with our conscience. We will vote taking into account the facts on the ground, whether we think a peaceful disarmament was possible, is possible, what the consequences of a war will be, what our people think about it and, naturally, what our friends think about it, including, in particular, the United States."

Pakistan and Angola have been working with the other undecided members -- Guinea, Cameroon, Mexico, and Chile -- to try to forge a compromise. They have been considering whether to compile a list of specific disarmament demands for Iraq to comply with. They also seek a longer time frame for Iraq to respond.

U.S. State Department officials have said they still believe they can get the nine votes needed to pass the measure, provided there are no vetoes. But U.S. officials have repeatedly said they are prepared to lead a coalition to disarm Iraq without a mandate from the Security Council.

An estimated 250,000 military personnel are massed in the Persian Gulf area and could act soon after the resolution vote takes place.

White House spokesman Fleischer stressed that the United States would be leading an international military action: "If the United Nations fails to act, that means the United Nations will not be the international body that disarms Saddam Hussein. Another international body will disarm Saddam Hussein. So this will remain an international action. It is just that the United Nations will have chosen to put itself on the sidelines -- that is, the United Nations Security Council will have [chosen to put itself on the sidelines]."

Earlier yesterday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that military action against Iraq without a council mandate would violate the UN charter.

In yesterday's discussions, the council also discussed Iraq's possession of a large unmanned aircraft, revealed in a document delivered 7 March by chief UN inspector Hans Blix in addition to his oral report. UN officials are trying to determine if the drone can fly more than 150 kilometers and if it could be used to deliver chemical and biological weapons.

But despite the revelation, Blix told reporters late yesterday that inspectors have found no proof that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.