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US fires warning shot at France

Paris/Baghdad, Feb. 25 (Reuters): The US fired a warning shot today across the bows of France, the leading critic of its Iraq policy, saying it would view any French veto of a new UN resolution authorising force as “very unfriendly”.

The US ambassador in Paris issued the warning after France said it and Germany opposed what it called a shift towards “a logic of war” and circulated a rival proposal that would give UN weapons inspectors at least four months to scour Iraq.

Even as he spoke, other members of the decision-making UN Security Council added their voices to the chorus of scepticism over the resolution, clouding Washington’s hopes of winning the nine votes needed to pass it by mid-March.

Russia has backed the French proposal as has fellow veto-wielding China, with some reservations. Beijing said it saw no need for a new resolution and believed diplomatic energies should focus on forcing Baghdad to disarm without war.

“Obviously, all delegations said they will study the draft, which also has a rather rambling preamble,” Russia’s UN envoy Sergei Lavrov told Russian television.

“But few share the conclusion contained in this resolution — that Iraq has wasted its chance. Most importantly, that conclusion does not stem from the assessments repeatedly presented to the Security Council by the inspectors themselves.”

Syria, the only Arab country on the 15-member council, said it would vote against, while Angola, Cameroon and Pakistan said they had yet to decide what to do.

Pakistan, which faces unrest from Islamic militants if it votes for war against Iraq, may abstain, diplomats said.

Washington, London and Madrid submitted the draft resolution to the polarised council yesterday. It declared that Iraq had squandered its “final opportunity” to disarm.

British foreign minister Jack Straw said the resolution would not be put up for a vote for around two weeks, to allow time to “concentrate the minds” of Security Council members and offer Iraq a last chance to comply.

The US ambassador in Paris, Howard Leach, said he hoped France would agree the United Nations had to take action.

“I hope there won’t be a veto because a veto would be very unfriendly and we would not look favourably on that,” he told LCI television, according to a French translation of his remarks in English.

No vote is expected until after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the council again, probably on March 7, at a meeting expected to be attended by foreign ministers.

A spokeswoman for the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said a planned report by its head had been advanced a month to coincide with Blix’s report.

In a boost for Washington, Ankara, which has dragged its feet for weeks on an urgent US request to set up a “northern front” from Turkey against Iraq, said a motion on allowing US troops to deploy could be presented to Parliament within hours.

But Turkey’s deputy Prime Minister said it was unlikely Parliament would discuss the motion before Wednesday.

Saddam’s top scientific adviser said Iraq was still considering a UN order to destroy its al Samoud missiles by March 1, despite a US television report the Iraqi leader had indicated he would keep the weapons.

“It is still under consideration,” Gen. Amer al-Saadi told reporters when asked about the UN demand to destroy the missiles which are alleged to have a longer than permitted range.

The White House had said the case for war had been strengthened by the comments which CBS television said had been made in a rare interview it had with Saddam.

Straw said Saddam appeared to be behaving true to form. “This is absolutely typical of the way Saddam behaves,” he said.

US President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, pledged yesterday that the US would try to turn around war opponents France, Russia and China. “We, the British, the Spanish and the others will make an all-out diplomatic effort to talk to various parties about the logic of this resolution and hopefully bring people around to vote for it,” she told reporters in Washington.

She said the US wanted a decision from the Security Council one way or the other in the days immediately after Blix’s March 7 report.

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