U.S., Britain and Spain Will Meet to Plan Their Next Move
By David Stout
New York Times
Friday 14 March 2003
WASHINGTON President Bush will confer with the leaders of Britain and Spain on an island in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday in a last-ditch effort to win United Nations backing for using military force to disarm Iraq.
The emergency summit meeting, to be held at an air base in the Azores, was described by President Bush's chief spokesman, Ari Fleischer, as "an effort to pursue every last bit of diplomacy" despite dwindling hopes that the Security Council would confer its blessing on a war against Saddam Hussein.
The planned gathering of President Bush and Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jos Mar a Aznar of Spain will be a one-day affair, Mr. Fleischer said. The Azores, which belong to Portugal, are about 2,300 miles east of the United States and 900 miles west of Europe. Portugal is among the countries that have offered logistical support to the United States in the event of a war on Iraq.
President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, described the session as "an opportunity to think about the ways in which the United Nations security process can come to a conclusion," and she made it clear that the undecided members of the Security Council were still being lobbied.
"Everybody has been on the phones and will be on the phones this weekend," Dr. Rice said in a brief, impromptu exchange with reporters in Washington.
Dr. Rice said she recognized the "difficult decision" faced by the six undecided members of the Security Council. "We understand that," she said. But she added, "There is a certain responsibility that comes with Security Council membership, whether permanent or elected, and we're continuing to talk to people about that responsibility."
Today's announcement by the White House came as it appeared increasingly unlikely that the 15-member Security Council would pass a new resolution endorsing military action against Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Thursday that in any event the United States might choose not to seek the council's blessing. The secretary's remarks were a reversal of President Bush's vow a week ago to force a vote in the Security Council to make its members declare themselves.
The United States, Britain and Spain have drawn up a resolution that gives Iraq an ultimatum to disarm or face invasion. Only one other nation on the Security Council, Bulgaria, has backed the resolution so far.
Six nations Angola, Chile, Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan are undecided. The remaining five council members France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria oppose the resolution. The stances of France and Russia are especially significant, since they hold veto power as permanent members of the council.
Today, President Ricardo Lagos of Chile offered a new plan backed by his country and the five other undecided members on the Security Council that set out five disarmament conditions for Iraq to meet and gave Baghdad three weeks to comply. "We believe there is still room for a peaceful solution," Mr. Lagos said.
News agency reports said the proposal was similar to the modified resolution that Britain offered last week, the major difference being that it did not require the Iraqi president to make a televised statement. Mr. Blair had proposed six "tests" for Mr. Hussein to fulfill under a tight deadline, including a televised pledge to renounce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The Chile plan was immediately rejected by the White House. "No, that's a nonstarter," Mr. Fleischer told reporters.
Under United Nations rules, nine votes are required to pass a Security Council resolution, assuming there is no veto from one of the five permanent members. The United States has been hoping that even if France or Russia exercised their veto, a resolution backed by nine council members or even a simple majority of eight would lend sufficient legitimacy to a military campaign.
President Bush and his top aides have repeatedly said that the United States is hoping for a peaceful disarmament of Iraq, but that time is running out for Mr. Hussein.
Dr. Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, made that point again today. She said Mr. Hussein had been given "one final chance to be disarmed," as opposed to "one final chance to be inspected," an allusion to the years of inspections by the United Nations to determine the extent of Iraq's arsenal.
By any measure, the hastily arranged Azores meeting is an extraordinary step. The announcement seemed all the more unusual because it coincided with President Bush's announcement today that he would unveil his long-sought "road map" for Middle East peace once a new Palestinian prime minister with real governing authority takes office.
Mr. Bush announced his Middle East initiative in the White House Rose Garden and ignored questions from reporters about the Azores meeting.
A short time later in London, Prime Minister Blair held a news conference at which he too rebuffed questions about Iraq, concentrating instead on the Middle East peace process, which he described as "a vital issue in its own right."
Mr. Blair has been suffering politically because of his staunch support for President Bush's determination to disarm Iraq by force if necessary. The prime minister was asked if he expected some people to be skeptical about the timing of the Middle East initiative, just as Iraq has been dominating the news.
The prime minister insisted that "precisely now" is the time for statesmen to concentrate on the Middle East, thus demonstrating that a sustained peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a transcendent goal and "not something we take a passing interest in."
President Bush has linked Iraq's future with prospects of peace throughout the Middle East, asserting that a democratically governed Iraq would be an example for other peoples throughout the region and inevitably lessen the risks of war and terrorism.
Then, too, if the United States does move military against Iraq, it would want as much support as possible from Arab nations. And it would want to minimize Arab suspicions about American intentions in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
President Bush has asserted for months that the United States has sufficient legal and moral authority to disarm Iraq by force, with or without United Nations backing. Administration officials have also maintained that Security Council Resolution 1441, which was passed in November and demands that Iraq disarm or face "serious consequences," provides United Nations authority for military action against Baghdad.
Mr. Bush has recently challenged the United Nations to demonstrate its relevance and resolve by enforcing its own earlier resolution demanding that the Baghdad regime get rid of weapons of mass destruction weapons that Iraq insists it does not have.
Mr. Fleischer, the White House spokesman, reiterated the President's challenge to the international organization when he said the participants in the Azores conference "will, of course, be discussing how to get the U.N. to act and to disarm Saddam Hussein."
Mr. Fleischer said the outspoken opposition to the Security Council resolution has been a boon to the Iraqi leader in the sense it makes it less likely he will see "the writing on the wall" and perhaps even flee into exile.
"To the degree that other nations erase the writing on the wall, it makes it less likely for Saddam Hussein to leave," he said.
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