Pressure swings to Security Council

Bush lobbies for votes, says time is nearly gone for a diplomatic solution

March 17, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council will be the focus of intense worldwide attention today as its 15 member countries respond to the challenge laid down in the Azores yesterday by President Bush and the prime ministers of Britain and Spain.

In stark terms, Bush essentially gave the council two options: It can authorize war if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refuses to disarm convincingly or go into exile. Or it can fail to authorize war and thus cause the United States and a "coalition of the willing" to invade Iraq without U.N. backing.

"Tomorrow's the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work," Bush said yesterday.

If a U.S.-backed resolution were to secure the nine votes needed for passage in the Security Council, France and Russia would have to decide whether to support it or make good on threats to veto any resolution that authorizes imminent military action.

The sponsors of the resolution -- the United States, Britain and Spain -- could insist on a vote even without nine supporters. This would force a delicate decision for countries that would have to choose between aligning with the United States or with France and Russia.

But more likely, the sponsors, if they lack enough votes, would drop the resolution. Analysts say that would put the United States and Britain in a firmer legal position to go to war than having the resolution voted down or vetoed.

A rejection of the resolution by the United Nations would raise questions about the legality of a war, and perhaps inflame anti-war sentiment around the world.

After the summit yesterday, a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration would assess how many votes it could win before deciding its next move.

"The first thing to see is whether people are prepared to vote," the official said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke by telephone with the foreign ministers of Spain and Britain but did not settle on a strategy.

"The basic bottom line is, `We'll talk in the morning,'" the official said.

If the resolution is put to a vote, its sponsors would have to insert a new deadline. The draft was written in expectation of a vote last week and had set today as the deadline for Iraq to show "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation" in getting rid of its weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution would give Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm itself in the hope of avoiding a U.S.-led invasion.

The new deadline would be, as Bush administration officials put it, "very, very short," though no date has been agreed to. The way Bush laid out the choice for the council, voting for the resolution could delay war for at least a few days. If the resolution fails, Bush could act at any time.

Vice President Dick Cheney ruled out a French proposal to extend the deadline for Hussein by 30 days. Still, the Security Council plans to discuss the French plan today, a sign of its strong resistance to the U.S. approach.

Votes appear lacking

As of yesterday, all signs at the United Nations were that the U.S.-backed resolution would fail to secure enough votes for passage, making a French or Russian veto unnecessary.

Late last week, only four nations on the Security Council were publicly in support of the resolution: the United States, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria.

Four others -- France, Russia, Germany and Syria -- were opposed. China was likely to abstain or vote with France and Russia. Six nations were undecided: Pakistan, Mexico, Chile, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea.

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that they would resume lobbying leaders of council member countries by phone.

Resolution or no, Bush and Cheney signaled yesterday that there was only one way for Iraq to avoid war -- by getting rid of Hussein. This suggested that there is no more time for Hussein to show that he is disarming.

"He got to decide whether he was going to disarm, and he didn't," Bush said. "He can decide whether he wants to leave the country. These are his decisions to make. And thus far, he has made bad decisions."

Cheney, interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press, rejected assertions by U.N. inspectors who say there is no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

"If [Hussein] were to cough up whatever he has in this regard now, even if it was complete and total, we have to assume tomorrow he'd be right back in business again," Cheney said.

Asked whether Hussein would have to "disarm completely and leave the country," Cheney replied: "I think that would be the only acceptable outcome I can think of at this point."

Iraq has invited the two chief U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, to Baghdad, but neither has decided whether to go.

"I don't exclude it," Blix said, "but there are many other things that are happening in the world. We need a little more clarity."

On France and U.N.

Cheney set the stage for recriminations against France if President Jacques Chirac does not back down on his veto threat.

He recited four instances, dating to 1995, in which France opposed tough U.N. actions against Iraq. Cheney pointed out that in 1998, "France announced that [Hussein] was free of all weapons of mass destruction, something nobody believed."

Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that the Security Council's actions on Iraq will figure heavily in the administration's willingness to rely on the United Nations to handle other international security crises.

Changes could be in store for the half-century-old institution, Bush warned yesterday, if it fails to meet the challenge he set for it today.

"We hope tomorrow the U.N. will do its job," the president said.

A vigorous role for the United Nations in a post-Hussein Iraq, Bush said, would be a way for the world body to "get its legs of responsibility back."

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