| British international development secretary Claire Short (left) and Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. (Reuters, AFP)
United Nations, March 10 (Reuters): The US and Britain made no public headway today in their drive for a UN resolution setting a March 17 ultimatum to Iraq, while Russia and France remained firmly opposed and poised to use their vetoes.
Security Council ambassadors began new consultations, but chances of the resolution coming to a vote tomorrow — the original US target date — appeared to be receding since Washington and its allies were still far from mustering the nine votes needed and even seemed to be losing ground.
The resolution would set March 17 for Iraq to satisfy all Security Council resolutions that it was fully co-operating with disarmament demands. Opponents said the text amounted to a blank cheque for Washington to wage war.
The US and its allies have more than 300,000 troops with more than 500 warplanes and dozens of warships ready to strike in a war to remove President Saddam Hussein and his government.
President George W. Bush worked the phones to foreign leaders, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Secretary of state Colin Powell was meeting the foreign minister of Guinea, Francois Ousseynou Fall, and called top officials in Angola, Mexico and Pakistan. Powell said yesterday there was a “strong chance” of getting nine or 10 votes.
But a source in Pakistan’s ruling Muslim League said his country would abstain. The official, who did not want to be identified, said the decision was taken at a dinner meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
Earlier, Jamali said it would be “very difficult for Pakistan to support an Iraqi war.” If that happened, Washington would need all five of the remaining uncommitted votes on the Security Council for the resolution to succeed. Even if it won nine votes, a veto from any of the five permanent members of the Security Council would kill the resolution. France, Russia and China all oppose the draft and Russia said again today it was determined to defeat it, while the French foreign minister travelled around Africa lobbying three Security Council members for “no” votes.
“Russia thinks that now there is no need for any new UN resolutions, and that is why Russia has openly declared that if the draft that has been submitted for consideration, and which contains unfulfillable ultimatum-type demands, will be put to vote, Russia will vote against this resolution,” said foreign minister Igor Ivanov said.
So far, only the US, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria support the resolution. France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria are definitely opposed. The other uncommitted nations are Chile, Mexico, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea. Chile said on Saturday that the March 17 time frame was too short.
In The Hague, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan warned that if military action were taken without the authority of the Security Council, “the legitimacy and support for any such action would be seriously impaired.”
Bush has said he was ready to launch a war against Iraq with or without UN backing. But the political cost was mounting for his main ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair’s international development secretary Clare Short threatened to resign if Britain went to war without UN backing, giving a warning of the kind of revolt the British leader could face from within his Labour Party, where anti-war sentiment is running strong. A recent poll showed that only 15 per cent of Britons would back war without a UN mandate. Blair responded with a stark warning on the need to show Iraq a united front, but his failure to sack Short showed how carefully he knows he must tread over an issue that has sparked the worst parliamentary revolt since he took office in 1997.
Explosives in oil fields
Iraq appears to have placed explosives at the Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq to destroy them if a US invasion occurs, US officials said today.
“There are indications that has taken place,” one official said in response to a question whether explosives had been placed in the oil field. The official added this had occurred“recently.” In Baghdad, an oil ministry official denied Iraq has placed explosives at the oil fields.