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Bush Set to Be Pivot in Diplomacy

February 25, 2003|Robin Wright | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration prepared Monday for two to three weeks of relentless diplomacy to eke out nine votes on the Security Council for a resolution to forcibly disarm Iraq.

Officials said that President Bush would lead the effort to overcome stiff opposition on the council, offering members a stark choice: either the United Nations participates in a war to rid Baghdad of its weapons of mass destruction or stands on the sidelines.

U.S. officials say their tally shows Germany and Syria opposing the resolution and France, Russia, China and Pakistan possibly abstaining. The diplomatic wrangling is expected to be brutal, with the U.S. trying to stave off vetoes and win six votes in addition to its own and those of Britain and Spain, which co-sponsored the resolution.

With the support of Bulgaria, the three co-sponsors can count on four votes in favor of the resolution. The administration had only seven supporters on the eve of last November's vote for U.N. Resolution 1441, which demanded resumption of weapons inspections. The resolution ended up passing unanimously.

This time, the U.S. faces a tougher fight. The president will be deeply involved in consultations with the 14 other members of the Security Council as the point man for this final round of diplomacy, U.S. officials said Monday.

"The president looks forward to talking with all of them [Security Council members] -- the president believes very strongly in the importance of consultation and working with our allies. And he believes very strongly in the need to lead. And that's what he's doing," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

It may take presidential muscle -- and arm-twisting.

A weekend of intense diplomacy -- with senior State Department officials in China, Russia, Europe and Africa -- and presidential calls to the leaders of France and Chile -- failed to nudge a single vote. Mexico is still resisting pressure from both the United States and Spain. And several other countries among the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council are considering withholding their votes altogether to prevent passage.

The president plans to use both carrot and stick in leading a final diplomatic offensive, U.S. officials say.

Bush began the process Monday during a meeting with a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. No details of the meeting were available.

The president is scheduled to give a major speech Wednesday laying out his vision of a new Middle East, beginning with the disarmament of Iraq, as the cornerstone of the U.S. push to convince both skeptical Americans and the outside world of the need to use force, if necessary, to disarm Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday.

The goal is to portray Iraq as only a piece in the broader U.S. plan to reconfigure the Middle East political map and make it conform to democratic changes that have swept much of the rest of the world over the past 15 years. The speech will also address concerns in Europe, Asia and Africa that the Arab-Israeli conflict needs to be urgently addressed -- and not sidelined because of Iraq, U.S. officials said.

"One of the interesting side notes to the many discussions the president has been having with world leaders about Iraq is the president always bring[ing] into the conversation the importance of making progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues. It remains a vital, central goal of the United States," Fleischer said.

But in intense rounds of telephone and personal diplomacy at the White House, the president also plans to make it clear to Security Council members that Iraq will be disarmed, with or without their participation.

The administration's argument is, in fact, based largely on the previous resolution, which already said Saddam Hussein was in material breach for failing to surrender his weapons of mass destruction.

"If you voted for 1441, you can't vote against this" resolution, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington on Monday. "It's going to be awfully hard to argue he has taken full advantage of his opportunities to comply." An administration official insisted that no country will be threatened with diplomatic reprisals. "We're not in a threatening mode. We've sent out as strong a message [to diplomatic posts] as we've ever sent, but not in the language of threats or coercion," said a well-placed U.S. official who requested anonymity.

The Bush administration insisted Monday that it is not offering either new evidence or major inducements to win support.

"We have no tricks left in our bag. We've made our case as cogently and comprehensively as possible. If there's any trick left, it's merely to convince them that there is no other alternative for us. We've made up our mind. Now it's a matter of which side you want to be on -- with the U.S. and part of the solution or part of the people obstructing resolution of this problem," said the U.S. official.

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