Washington/London, Sept. 6 (Reuters): As ally Britain warned Iraq that the clock had started ticking on a possible war, President George W. Bush today sought to sway the leaders of France, Russia and China to back his drive to oust Saddam Hussein.
Bush called French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who all have questions about a pre-emptive military strike on Iraq. The three nations, along with the US and Britain, form the permanent five members of the UN Security Council.
Oil prices leapt to one-year highs after an unconfirmed report that 100 warplanes had been involved in their latest strike over Iraq’s southern “no-fly” zone yesterday.
The US military said its warplanes had attacked an air defence target in the latest of a series of escalating exchanges. Iraq said US and British warplanes had attacked civilian targets.
Blair, due to meet Bush tomorrow in what British media are already calling a “war summit”, threw his weight behind the Americans. “They need to know, ‘Are you prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there, and when the shooting starts are you prepared to be there,’” he told the BBC.
Referring to Bush’s talks with world leaders, a White House official said: “It’s the beginning of the process that the President outlined on Wednesday to consult with friends and allies on how to remove the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his relentless acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.”
Russia appeared unconvinced. The Kremlin said Putin told Blair he had “deep doubts that there are grounds for the use of force in connection with Iraq”.
The Kremlin statement quoted Putin as saying that the use of force could have “serious, negative consequences for the situation in the Gulf region, West Asia and for the future of the US-led anti-terrorism coalition”.
Bush this week began a concerted effort to convince members of the US Congress and foreign allies on the threat posed by Saddam. Some members of Congress said Bush had to present more evidence.