| A boy flashes the peace sign as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Sydney on Sunday to show their opposition to a possible war against Iraq. (AP/PTI)
Baghdad/Washington, Feb. 16 (Reuters): The US and Britain considered giving diplomacy more time today in the face of resistance at the UN to their plans for war to disarm Iraq and vast weekend peace protests around the world.
Among more than six million people who marched in a wave of global protest not seen since the Vietnam War, some of the largest crowds were in countries whose leaders have echoed the hawkish stance taken by US President George W. Bush.
There was little sign that the demonstrations had put off pro-war leaders, who say Baghdad is hiding illegal weapons that pose a global threat.
Indeed Nato, its credibility rocked by a bitter internal row over Iraq, was working on a compromise that would allow it to prepare measures to protect Turkey in the event of a war.
But diplomatic splits persisted, complicating efforts by Washington and London to win UN backing for military action to disarm Iraq and oust President Saddam Hussein, who denies concealing banned weapons from UN inspectors.
Turkey, which would be in the front line in any conflict, warned Washington not to expect immediate permission to deploy tens of thousands of troops on its territory.
France, which won applause on Friday at the UN Security Council by insisting inspectors needed more time to investigate Iraq, repeated its call today, drawing criticism from Washington which said Paris was easing the pressure on Saddam.
Babel, newspaper of Saddam’s eldest son Uday, said the protests and Friday’s relatively positive report by UN weapons inspectors meant US had suffered a decisive defeat.
Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, however, that Washington was still working on winning support at the UN for a new resolution on Iraq.
A senior British diplomatic source said the US was prepared to spend more time to bring key UN Security Council members round after a showdown on Friday at which there appeared to be no majority for military action. “If that takes another couple of weeks, that time will have to be found,” the source said, stressing that there would have to be a defined deadline for the UN inspection process to produce results. “It’s got to be clearly time-limited.”
French President Jacques Chirac told Time magazine that the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time and resources to ensure the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, warning that a conflict could “create a large number of little (Osama) bin Ladens”.
But he left the door open to UN backing for military action. “If Iraq doesn’t cooperate and the inspectors say this isn’t working, it could be war,” he said in a lengthy interview.
The British diplomatic source said a French request for another ministerial meeting of the Security Council on March 14 might be acceptable if it resulted in a clear-cut decision. “But not if it’s just buying another four weeks.”
In Washington, Rice said calls to give inspectors more time only took pressure off Saddam. “It’s time for this to end. Enough is enough,” she told NBC. But she also said Washington was still seeking a new Security Council resolution authorising force.
UN weapons inspectors took a close look at Baghdad’s al Samoud short-range missiles, found to exceed the range allowed under UN resolutions.
Arab leaders, especially those whose countries host US troops, are anxious to limit popular backlash over a war against Iraq they might not be able to prevent.
Witnesses said riot police in Tunisia, a staunch ally of Washington, baton-charged anti-war demonstrators on Sunday, injuring at least 18, while in Oman, about 200 women held an unprecedented all-female demonstration.