Sun, Mar 09, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Bush increases pressure on UN Security Council

ENDGAME Friday's UN inspectors' reports left the council more divided than ever and post-WWII institutional architecture is buckling under the strain

Reuters and AFP, WASHINGTON and Paris

US President George W. Bush yesterday stepped up pressure on reluctant UN Security Council members to set a March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm or face military action, digging in for what may be a losing diplomatic battle.

"As a last resort, we must be willing to use military force," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

In his radio address and in private calls, Bush appealed to Security Council members still on the fence.

"Allowing a dangerous dictator to defy the world and build an arsenal for conquest and mass murder is not peace at all; it is pretense," Bush said. "The cause of peace will be advanced only when the terrorists lose a wealthy patron and protector, and when the dictator is fully and finally disarmed."

The US, Britain and Spain have proposed a new UN resolution that sets a March 17 ultimatum for Iraq to comply fully with disarmament demands. Iraq denies it has illegal arms and says it is cooperating with UN inspectors.

But the proposal faces opposition from France and other veto-wielding Security Council members, prompting Bush and his advisers to launch a final round of public and private diplomacy before next week's showdown vote.

While US officials were upbeat in public about the resolution's prospects, they were less confident in private.

"We will see whether we can pass the resolution," said a senior Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's going to be an intensive effort to persuade people to do that over the next several days."

Bush has made clear he may lead "a coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq regardless of the UN outcome.

The US so far only has four sure Security Council votes in its corner -- its own with those of Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. To succeed, Bush needs to get nine members of the 15-member Security Council to approve the resolution, though veto holders France and Russia could doom it.

Newspapers across the globe warned that the post-World War II political order and the primacy of the UN were at stake in the Iraq crisis, saying a report by the chief UN weapons inspectors had done little to sway opinion.

In a livid reaction to the US-British-Spanish proposal, to which the March 17 deadline was appended during Security Council debate Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov slammed the text as "unjustified" and "dangerous."

"There is still a chance for a political resolution and we think it would be wrong and dangerous to ignore it," he said, while Moscow renewed its vow to block any UN move to unleash war upon Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

Aides said Bush may dispatch his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to Russia to lobby President Vladimir Putin in person.

"The biggest crisis since the Cold War is dividing not enemies but friends and partners," wrote the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. "Saddam has won the first battle. He has divided Europe into bits and pieces, made waves and widened the Atlantic divide."

Other media echoed warnings by Russia's Ivanov that in the crisis, "we are now laying the foundations for ensuring peace and security in our time."

If US pressure on Council members prevails, warned the Gulf daily al-Bilad, "this would certainly mean the collapse of the international organization" -- meaning the UN -- while the United Arab Emirates' al-Khaleej daily warned of "the assassination of international legitimacy."

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