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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

White House Steps Up Efforts for U.N. Support

Diplomats say the U.S. is taking a harder line, warning Security Council members not to be on the 'wrong side' of a vote against Iraq.

February 23, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush worked with a handful of allies Saturday to persuade at least nine of the U.N. Security Council's 15 members to vote to give the United States authority for a war against Iraq.

Playing host to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at his Texas ranch, Bush organized a four-way telephone call with prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to discuss wording of a new Security Council resolution.

British officials said Saturday that after the resolution is introduced in the early part of the week, the United States will give the council "a few weeks" to debate and hold a vote. As it continues its buildup of troops and weapons in the Mideast, the United States is also stepping up its diplomatic efforts to win over reluctant allies.

According to diplomats, the Bush administration is warning council members that they should vote for the resolution or risk being on the "wrong side" of the issue.

"The argument is a little bit of political blackmail," said a diplomat who asked not to be named. "The message is that there is going to be a war, so the council should be united behind it. If there is a veto or the U.S. goes alone, it will do a lot of harm to the U.N."

After meeting with Japanese officials to discuss Iraq and North Korea, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said, "We are into a period of intense diplomacy." Powell told reporters this morning in Tokyo that chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix "will be reporting to the council on the 7th of March, and I would assume once he has made that report, everyone would have one last opportunity to make a judgment."

Most Security Council members have said they favor giving U.N. weapons inspectors more time to work with Iraq on disarmament and are not yet ready to authorize the use of force.

But Bush said Saturday that he was confident they would come around to the U.S. position -- that the time for military action is nearly at hand. The president recalled that last fall, few observers gave his first resolution, known as Resolution 1441, much chance of passing. In the end, after eight weeks of diplomacy, it passed unanimously in November.

"The clarity of vision that took place four months ago, I'm confident, will be in place after the Security Council takes a good look at the facts," Bush said.

But since then, the composition of the Security Council has changed. The council's 10 nonpermanent members now include two countries -- Germany and Syria -- that have indicated that they are unwilling to vote for a resolution authorizing force under any conditions.

According to U.N. rules, a resolution passes only if at least nine of the 15 Security Council members approve and none of the five permanent members use their veto. So far, the United States has only four of the nine votes it needs. In addition to itself, it can count on only Spain, Bulgaria and Britain, a permanent member. That means that it must sway five among the uncommitted nonpermanent members -- Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon and Chile.

It must also persuade the three other permanent members -- France, Russia and China -- not to veto the resolution.

That arithmetic has pushed the Bush administration and its allies into frenetic diplomacy to gain the necessary support. The president phoned the leaders of two crucial council members -- Mexico and Chile -- late Saturday afternoon. Although the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens oppose military action in Iraq, the Spanish prime minister has become a key intermediary to other world leaders on behalf of the Bush administration.

On his way to Texas, Aznar met with Mexican President Vicente Fox. But after a two-hour meeting, Fox announced no change in Mexico's position, and Aznar told reporters that he had not tried to twist arms.

"President Fox would not tolerate such pressure, as would be natural, nor would it ever occur to me" to apply it, Aznar said Friday.

The Bush administration made some headway in recent days in persuading Turkey to permit U.S. bases on its territory -- a crucial step in fighting the two-front war the Pentagon is planning. The two sides have reportedly reached tentative agreement on a $15-billion package of immediate aid and loans to help Turkey allay the financial and political costs of cooperating with the United States.

Behind the scenes, the Bush administration is trying to avoid offering similar financial aid or other inducements to win support for its position among Security Council members.

"We think the case is strong on its merits," a senior administration official said. "We're looking to our friends to work with us to confront a common danger.... So the question doesn't arise in those terms."

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