The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US tilts scales away from UN towards war

United Nations, March 13 (Reuters): The US said today it might abandon its search for a UN Security Council majority to authorise a looming invasion of Iraq, as its diplomatic efforts suffered new setbacks.

Still lacking Security Council support for a resolution that would give Iraq a few more days to satisfy its disarmament demands, the White House said diplomatic efforts could spill over into next week.

But secretary of state Colin Powell said Washington could also pull the resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, and wage war under the authority of previous UN votes.

“The options remain, go for a vote and see what members say or not go for a vote,” Powell told a US congressional committee. “But... all the options that you can imagine are before us and (we will) be examining them today, tomorrow and into the weekend.” With over 250,000 American and British troops poised to invade Iraq, President George W. Bush maintains he will launch a war without UN backing if necessary. He added to the US firepower today, sending B-2 stealth bombers to the region.

But Bush’s main ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is desperate for a UN resolution that could shore up his crumbling political base in the face of strong anti-war sentiment in his Labour Party and in the country.

Last week Bush said he would insist on a UN vote no matter what the outcome.

Britain offered a new concession by offering to drop a demand for President Saddam Hussein to appear on Iraqi television and own up to past illegal weapons programmes. “If the only issue between us, our partners on the Security Council and Saddam Hussein is whether or not he makes a TV broadcast, then we’d happily drop that,” said foreign secretary Jack Straw. UN Security Council members meet again later today on the British proposals.

Britain, council diplomats said, also was willing to give a substantial extension to the ultimatum in the current resolution giving Saddam until March 17 to show he was ready to disarm. But the US objected to anything more than a “very, very” modest extension.

France repeated its opposition to giving Saddam any ultimatums and said it was prepared to kill any such resolution by using its veto.

Foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said: “It’s not a question of giving Iraq a few more days before committing to the use of force. It’s about making resolute progress towards peaceful disarmament, as mapped out by inspections that offer a credible alternative to war.”

But in later comments, de Villepin sounded a more conciliatory note, saying France wanted to find a consensus in the Security Council and was working to defuse the bitter confrontation. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov also said his country, which is under heavy US pressure to abstain, would veto any resolution paving the way to war, even indirectly.

At the UN, secretary general Kofi Annan called in 13 of the 15 ambassadors of Security Council members for brief meetings ahead of new consultations later in the day. In Baghdad, a diplomatic source said Iraq would send a report its disposal of VX nerve agent to UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix tomorrow and another report on anthrax a few days later.

The US and Britain say Iraq has failed to account for hundreds of tons of the deadly agents which they believe it produced in the 1980s.

Iraq said it destroyed all its stocks in 1992 but has so far failed to provide documents or witnesses.

The Iraqi move seemed designed to complicate further Washington’s efforts to bring a reluctant Security Council into line behind its war plans.

In another blow to Washington, Guinea, one of six undecided nations on the 15-member Security Council, announced on state radio that it might abstain. US officials said yesterday they thought that three African votes on the council — Guinea, Angola and Cameroon — were leaning their way.

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