Bush Issues Ultimatum; France and Others Undeterred
Edith M. Lederer and Dafna Linzer
Sunday 16 March 2003
As President Bush pushed the United Nations to the wall Sunday, France and its allies were undeterred, insisting Iraq should have more time to disarm. U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was preparing a plan that would prolong inspections for several more months.
After meeting with the leaders of Britain and Spain -- his top allies in seeking military action -- Bush said that Monday would be "a moment of truth for the world" and urged other nations to support "the immediate and unconditional disarmament" of Saddam Hussein.
But diplomats said it was not immediately clear what the United States, Britain and Spain wanted from the Security Council on Monday.
Washington could call for a vote on a resolution that would set an ultimatum for Iraq to disarm within days or face war. The current resolution would set the deadline for Monday, but U.S. officials said that could be extended briefly.
The United States also could abandon the initiative. The resolution doesn't have the support of a majority of the 15 council members and faces a threatened veto by France, and possibly Russia.
U.S. and British diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were doubtful their resolution would be put to a vote Monday.
France, unmoved by the summit, planned to push ahead with its proposal, a 30-day timetable for Iraq to meet disarmament tasks to be set by Blix. The plan doesn't include an ultimatum.
At the emergency summit in the Azores Islands Sunday, Bush made no commitment to call a vote, change the deadline or withdraw the resolution. Bush said last week he would seek a council vote even if it appeared doomed to defeat.
Under U.N. rules, the United States and Britain must give a 24-hour notice before calling a Security Council vote.
The Security Council was to meet Monday to discuss the proposal by France, Germany and Russia calling for more time for inspections. The council meeting was announced while Bush and his allies were conferring and seemed designed to counter any announcement they could have made out of the summit.
Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the French proposal, saying "it's difficult to take the French serious."
After listening to the news conference in the Azores, Blix described the situation as "very threatening," but he made no plans to evacuate his weapons inspectors in Baghdad.
Instead, he said he would push forward with a 30-page work program and a list of key remaining disarmament tasks he wants Iraq to complete.
According to U.N. officials familiar with working drafts of Blix's report, the inspector is developing a program that envisions several more months of inspections, followed by a transition period to long-term monitoring of Iraq's weapons programs.
With the prospect of military action looming, the chief inspector was also considering an invitation to visit Baghdad.
"I don't exclude it but there are many other things that are happening in the world. ... We need a little more clarity."
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri said the invitation was aimed at fostering more cooperation with inspectors. But Secretary of State Colin Powell doubted such a trip could produce results.
Speaking on CNN's Late Edition, Powell said the remaining tasks Blix planned to identify were issues the "Iraqis could have resolved any time over the past five, 10, 12 years, and they have not. That's the problem."
After the U.S-backed resolution setting an ultimatum appeared to fail last week, many at the United Nations have already declared the diplomatic process dead and believe Bush will issue his own ultimatum to Iraq on Monday.
But France, Russia and Germany, whose influential voices helped block the U.S.-backed resolution, still publicly pushed for an alternative to war. The trio issued a joint statement over the weekend calling for more time for inspectors. Germany, however, objected to French President Jacques Chirac's 30-day timetable, saying inspectors should have all the time they want.
French diplomats in New York said their foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, was planning to attend a Blix briefing Tuesday and may be joined in the Security Council by his German and Russian counterparts.
Foreign ministers have attended four such Security Council meetings this year, a high-level display that was rare before the current Iraq crisis.
In November, the council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 to beef up inspections and issue Saddam a final opportunity to disarm and cooperate or face serious consequences.
The United States, Britain and Spain believe Saddam failed to use that chance to disarm peacefully. But France, Russia, Germany and many others on the council believe inspections, which according to Blix have produced some results and cooperation in the past four months, should continue.
In an interview published Sunday in the French weekly Journal du Dimanche, de Villepin said the proposal -- and others designed to speed up the peaceful disarmament of Iraq -- were being stonewalled by the U.S. military's inflexible timetable for an invasion of Iraq.
Military experts had said that February would have provided optimal weather conditions for battle in Iraq. The first half of March has brought sandstorms and the beginnings of stifling summer heat to the Persian Gulf region, where hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are awaiting orders.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they already have the authority they need to wage war in Iraq. But U.N. backing would lend international legitimacy to their actions and ensure that the world body share the costs of reconstruction in a post-war Iraq.
More importantly, a U.N. resolution would make it easier to build a coalition of countries willing to disarm Saddam by force. On Sunday, Belgium said it would deny the United States use of its territory for military transports if Washington acts without the United Nations.
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