| Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit during a training exercise at an undisclosed location in West Asia. (AFP)
Moscow, Oct. 3 (Reuters): The world’s most powerful countries revealed deep divisions on Iraq today, with Russia, China and France refusing to toe Washington’s uncompromising line.
The United States has proposed a tough new United Nations resolution paving the way for possible war against Iraq, but Britain is the only other of the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members to back it.
Russia joined France to rule out mention of automatic use of force in the draft and called instead for the swift return of weapons inspectors to Baghdad under existing UN agreements.
“Attempts to make the UN Security Council subscribe to automatic use of force against Iraq are unacceptable for us,” deputy foreign minister Alexander Saltanov told Interfax news agency.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder dined together yesterday evening and agreed there was much common ground between their positions on Iraq, which contrast starkly with Washington and London’s interventionist approach.
China joined the dovish chorus, calling for a political solution to the Iraqi crisis and the smooth resumption of UN weapons inspections.
US President George W. Bush secured domestic support yesterday for his anti-Iraq campaign as leaders of the House of Representatives closed ranks behind possible military force.
But with opposition abroad ever more vocal, Washington has hesitated in introducing to the Security Council its draft resolution, which demands Iraq open every inch of its territory to inspectors or face attack.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the international community to stop sending “mixed signals” on Iraq, and said the more united the message, the less likely it was that a strike would be needed.
Blair said today if diplomacy failed, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must be disarmed by force, but insisted that inspectors should not return until given sweeping powers by a tougher UN resolution.
“If it doesn’t happen peacefully, it will have to happen through military action... he can’t avoid disarmament,” Blair told a news conference.
He also demanded the Iraqi President open up his sprawling palace complexes to full scrutiny by weapons inspectors.
“The access that we require must include the presidential palaces. It is no good allowing inspectors access to 99 per cent of Iraq if the weapons of mass destruction are actually located and stored... in the remaining one per cent,” Blair said.
But Baghdad has already rejected the draft resolution and other countries think the best route to disarmament is to send inspectors back quickly under existing agreements.
”What the U.S. and the British have provided us with only strengthens us in the correctness of our position in favour of the quickest possible resumption of inspection activities in Iraq,” Russia's Saltanov said.
Iraq has said it will allow inspectors, who left in 1998, back into the country, but it has indicated it wants some limits on their work. Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the Security Council after reaching agreement with Baghdad on letting inspectors back in.
Blix had intended to send some advance teams to Iraq in about two weeks but the US is expected to tell him to hold off and wait for a new resolution.
Defence hub hit
US and British warplanes attacked an air defence command center in a “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq today after Iraq tried to shoot down an aircraft dropping warning leaflets in the area, the Pentagon said.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi military spokesman said five civilians had been killed in an air attack on civilian installations in the south.