| An undated picture of the 21,000-pound Massive Ordinance Aerial Bomb which the US air force tested on Tuesday. It is nicknamed ‘the mother of all bombs’. (AFP)
United Nations, March 12 (Reuters): Britain set out six tough new conditions for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to avoid war today, in an attempt to break the UN Security Council stalemate over a resolution to set Baghdad a tight deadline before fighting begins.
With nine votes needed for a majority and voting expected by the end of the week, the new British proposals were aimed to win over six uncommitted nations on the 15-member Council.
An amended resolution, expected to be formally presented to Security Council members today, still seemed certain to be vetoed by France, Russia and possibly China. The US and Britain hope for a vote on Friday, diplomats said.
President George W. Bush has vowed to go to war with or without UN backing and there are around 250,000 US and British troops poised to invade Iraq. However, abandoning the world body would carry a heavy price, especially for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose political future is at stake.
But Washington’s patience seemed to be wearing thin. “The Security Council needs to stand up, give him a very clear message that he needs to disarm — that he has days, not weeks, to disarm,” Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a radio interview.
Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio, whose government supports the resolution, said the sponsors were considering not presenting it for a vote because France was sure to veto it.
British officials said they wanted to present the conditions — which include a demand that Saddam appear on television and pledge to give up weapons of mass destruction — as a side statement to a fresh resolution. The deadline for Iraq to comply could be moved from March 17 to March 21, diplomats said.
Among uncommitted members on the Security Council, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said he was losing hope of a diplomatic solution and “frustrated” with the impasse.
The other uncommitted nations are: Mexico, Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea. Some US sources said there were signs that Cameroon and Angola were leaning their way after intense lobbying by Bush and other top US officials.
In another sign of the intense diplomatic pressure Washington was bringing to bear, the US ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, warned Moscow to think twice about the consequences of using its UN veto.
“Russia should carefully weigh all the consequences,” he told Russia’s Izvestia newspaper.
Diplomats thought the list of British conditions would be next to impossible for Saddam to accept without fatally weakening the basis of his power.
They included demands that Iraq allow 30 of its scientists to be interviewed outside the country with their families in tow. Further, it asks Iraq to surrender stocks of anthrax and other biological and chemical agents or produce documents to demonstrate what happened to them, destroy banned missiles, account for unmanned aerial vehicles and promise to hand over all mobile bio-production laboratories for destruction.
But the humiliating demand for a televised “mea culpa” alone is likely to be too much for Saddam, prompting anti-war members of Blair’s Labour Party to ask if his wish-list was little short of a declaration of war.
Signs of strain
There were also signs of strain between Britain and the US after US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested Washington was ready to go it alone without the support of troops from Britain if necessary.
Rumsfeld quickly backtracked, saying he was confident America’s chief ally would fight side by side with US troops, and Britain said it would. “If action is necessary, there will be a significant part played by British troops,” a spokesman said. Blair brushed aside lawmakers’ calls for him to save his political career by accepting a non-combat role for British forces.