Dispute Over Iraqi Drones

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Describing the Bush administration as "in the thick of diplomacy," a White House spokesman Monday questioned why the chief United Nations weapons inspector did not mention a newly discovered Iraqi weapon in his report last week.

Ari Fleischer said there was still no firm date for a vote on a U.S.-backed resolution laying the groundwork for war against Iraq. Russia on Monday joined France in threatening to veto that measure, a move Fleischer said "would be more than a disappointment."

The Security Council was to meet in closed session Monday afternoon. It was likely that the members would discuss the new allegations that Iraq has developed unmanned aerial vehicles capable of dispensing chemical weapons and a cluster bomb fitted to release tiny capsules of poisonous agents.

Iraq did not declare either weapon in November, and Hans Blix did not mention them in his address to the Security Council on Friday.

The unmanned drones were listed in an appendix added to Blix's written report. Fleischer says the White House wants to know why Blix did not mention the drones.

The New York Times reports inspectors found the new cluster bombs, but were not yet sure how many of them Iraq developed or how long ago they were built.

The new charges that Iraq has hidden dangerous weapons could figure into the furious last-minute drive to swing council members to vote for the U.S.-British-Spanish proposal, which says Iraq has failed to disarm and warns of "serious consequences" if Baghdad fails to comply by March 17.

As part of that drive, President Bush Monday phoned Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Fleischer said Mr. Bush is using the calls to say "it's time to stand up for the immediate disarmament of Saddam Hussein." He said Mr. Bush is framing it as "a moral issue, an important issue."

A vote on the resolution could come as early as Tuesday, although it might be postponed as the proponents of authorizing force lobby for votes.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that the U.S. was within "striking distance" of getting the nine votes needed to pass the resolution.

But Russian Foreign Minster Igor Ivanov warned Monday that Russia will vote against the measure, marking the first time that Russia has explicitly said it would veto the resolution in its current form.

"In the course of the latest session of the U.N. Security Council, we did not hear serious arguments for the use of force to solve the Iraqi problem," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.

" … Russia openly declares that if draft resolution that currently has been introduced for consideration and which contains demands in an ultimative form that cannot be met is nonetheless put to a vote then Russia will vote against this resolution," he said, according to Interfax.

The announcement makes the diplomatic challenge facing the United States even steeper. Until now, the U.S. thought Russia and China — two veto-wielding council members that oppose the war — would abstain from the vote on the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution, which states Iraq has failed its disarmament demands and gives it until March 17 to comply.

The U.S. has calculated that if it secured nine or ten votes, France might be reluctant to block the resolution. Security Council vetoes are fairly rare. According to U.N. records, only eight have been used in the past six years — six by the United States and two by China.

However, with Russia on board, the diplomatic calculus changes, because two vetoes would provide each country with a measure of political cover.

Warning that "until a vote is cast, you can't be 100 percent certain," Fleischer nonetheless acknowledged that Russia's veto threat was a blow. American lobbying efforts continue to focus on six undecided, non-permanent council members.

Currently, the administration has four solid votes on its side: its own and those of Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. Five nations have signaled outright opposition to a new resolution, and may either abstain or vote "no": China, France, Germany, Russia and Syria.

The other six Security Council members represent the swing votes: Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan.

Appearing on Sunday talk show, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice refused to say which nations the United States is counting on for supportive votes.

The foreign minister of Guinea will visit administration officials this week, Rice said. Asked whether the administration was trying to entice potential backers with promises of financial aid, as it sought to do with Turkey, she replied: "We're talking to people about their interests."

Rice and Powell said the administration is following a hard but necessary course to protect Americans, and predicted public opinion would swing the administration's way.

As the American diplomatic push intensified, criticism rose from several quarters, meanwhile.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien contended that a U.S.-led war would give license to other nations who felt they needed to preemptively attack.

"It might be considered as a precedent for others to try to do the same thing," Chretien said. "Where do you stop? You know, if you can do that there, why not elsewhere?"

Former President Jimmy Carter, last year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, added his voice to that warning. "American stature will surely decline further if we launch a war in clear defiance of the United Nations."

Meanwhile, in Britain, there were more signs of division over Prime Minister Tony Blair's strong support for the looming war. A member of his cabinet, International Development Secretary Clare Short, told national radio she would quit if Britain attacks Iraq without United Nations backing.

The Los Angeles Times reports that inspectors have uncovered evidence that during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Saddam ordered his field commander to launch 75 missiles filled with poison gas or germs if Iraq was struck with nuclear weapons.
  • Joel Roberts

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