Feb. 6 (Reuters): Despite a dramatic presentation by secretary of state Colin Powell of Iraqi attempts to thwart UN inspections, key Security Council members did not budge from their opposition to war.
While nearly every council member during Powell’s electric 80-minute address on Wednesday agreed that Saddam Hussein’s government fell far short of compliance, few made the leap to suggesting Iraq presented a big enough threat to warrant war.
The next step is a trip to Baghdad this weekend by top UN disarmament officials, chief UN inspector Hans Blix and his colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, in charge of nuclear arms, after which they will address the Security Council on February 14.
France, China and Russia, which have veto power in the 15-member council, maintained past positions that UN arms inspectors needed more time. So did six other council members.
Late tonight, Nato’s secretary-general turned the tables on France and Germany in a deadlock over measures to protect Turkey in case of a war in Iraq, giving them until Monday to agree or face isolation.
Bringing to a head three weeks of wrangling which has exacerbated transatlantic tensions, George Robertson set a Monday morning deadline for Nato’s 19 allies to formally hand military planners a list of defensive tasks.
Continued resistance from France, Germany and Belgium at a highly charged meeting of Nato ambassadors on Wednesday suggested they were not moved by Powell’s indictment of Baghdad.
Robertson used his perogative as chairman of the North Atlantic Council to put the proposals under a so-called“silence procedure” — effectively daring any ally to take the political risk of vetoing them.
“The council this afternoon examined the arguments in great detail. We did not reach a final conclusion, but we've put a set of decisions under a silence procedure for decision early next week,” the secretary-general told a news conference.
“Does that mean that there is a continuing disagreement over the timing issue in Nato' Yes, it does. But I am confident that we will reach a decision early next week,” he said.
Under the procedure, the decision to start military planning will take effect automatically unless any member nation raises objections by “breaking the silence” before 0900 GMT on Monday.
As one diplomat put it, the manoeuvre left Thursday’s story one of “Natohas still not agreed”. But if any of the three countries holding out break the silence, “the finger will be pointed squarely at them for not supporting an ally”.
Officials said the tasks to be planned included the possible deployment to Turkey — a likely launchpad for a US-led strike on Iraq — of Patriot air defence missiles, early warning aircraft and special anti-chemical and biological warfare teams.
The Patriots would probably come from the Netherlands. The Awacs surveillance planes, based in Germany, are jointly held and operated by a consortium of 13 Nato nations.
Deployment would require a further unanimous decision.
Military planners would also look at how Nato could protect forces in European military bases and fill gaps left if troops are deployed from Balkans peacekeeping missions to Iraq.
But an initial US request for a wide range of support, including possible post-war humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, had been narrowed down to make a consensus easier to reach.