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Political And Diplomatic Maneuvering

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson covers the State Department beat.

At sporting events, the saying goes, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. It's about the same in international political and diplomatic circles these days.

Yes, that was Germany's Schroeder in Moscow meeting with Russia's Putin, while Spain's Aznar blew through Paris for a tete-a-tete with Jacques Chirac. Aznar's really chalking up the frequent flyer miles because he spent last weekend at President George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Paris and Crawford: this week's diplomatic daily double!

Jordan's Abdullah stopped at 10 Downing St. to visit Tony Blair about the time Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Asia, betting the Asian diplomatic trifecta, as he held talks with Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders.

And the White House has had the red carpet out too. Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Simeon Saxcoburggotski, came to see Mr. Bush (reporters were not called in to hear the President thank his visitor by name, alas). Afghanistan's Karzai also breezed through Washington.

Other frequent flyers included Under Secretary of State John Bolton who went to Moscow for talks while his colleague, Under Secretary Marc Grossman found himself in Paris. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner trooped off to see leaders of Angola, Guinea and Cameroon, three suddenly very important African countries now sitting on the U.N. Security Council.

And that's not all. While these and other world leaders were talking about how to separate Saddam Hussein from his weapons of mass destruction, CBS News Anchor Dan Rather was in Baghdad talking to Saddam Hussein! The Iraqi leader challenged Mr. Bush to a debate. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the interview "60 minutes of lies, deception and propaganda."

What's going on here? The answer is basic international politics and coalition building. Washington is trying to muster nine votes in favor of yet another U.N. Security Council resolution finding Iraq in material breach of U.N. requirements. Paris is working just as hard to say let's give Saddam Hussein more time to disarm.

Allies are being cajoled, arms are being twisted, and future relations are being weighed with all the political skill each leader possesses. So far, it appears Security Council members are divided as follows: Russia and Germany and Syria are with France, which has threatened to use its veto; while Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria are with Washington.

Very much up for grabs are Security Council members Mexico, Chile, Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, and Pakistan. China, which has veto power, is not considered a serious threat to use it.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher says there are no quid pro quos involved in the hunt for votes but The Washington Post's editorial cartoonist, Tom Toles, showed a line of would-be friends of Washington willing to sell their votes or offering various forms of assistance in exchange for a billion here or two billion there. And why wouldn't other countries look for some form of payback when Turkey was working out an agreement with Washington for up to $26 billion in grants and loans in exchange for allowing U.S. troops to use its territory as a launching pad for possible military action against Iraq.

Counting its own vote and those of Britain, Spain and Bulgaria, the Bush administration still needs five more to assure diplomatic success. It won't be easy but State Department officials say they're not counting anyone out yet. Not even the French? Not even the French. There's still hope, says a senior State department official, that "in the end, the French ... will do what needs to be done." Translation: a way might be found which prevents the French from using their veto and allows them enough wiggle room simply to abstain when crunch time arrives.

One thing every leader has to keep in mind as the political and diplomatic maneuvering continues for the next two weeks or so is the constant reminder from Mr. Bush about his intentions: if the U.N. fails to enforce its own disarmament orders to Iraq, the U.S. will lead a coalition of the willing which will.

By Charles M. Wolfson