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War veto possible, Russia threatens



Published: Fri, February 28, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



France said Iraq's decision to destroy missiles proves that U.N. weapons inspections are working.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Russia warned today that it might veto a U.S. war resolution before the sharply divided U.N. Security Council. But Pakistan -- a Muslim nation that could be a key swing vote -- signaled growing support for Washington.

France, which along with Russia has led opposition to a war, said Iraq's decision to comply with a U.N. order to destroy missiles proves that inspections are working.

Deep divisions in the Security Council showed no signs of closing today after Iraqi sources said the destruction of the Al Samoud 2 missiles would begin Saturday, despite grumbling by Baghdad that the missiles do not violate U.N.-imposed range limits.

Opening the door

The United States, Britain and Spain are pushing a resolution that would open the door for war, while Russia, China and France are calling for continued weapons inspections and a diplomatic end to the crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia could use its veto power to block military action.

"Russia has the right to a veto in the U.N. Security Council and will use it if it is necessary in the interests of international stability," Ivanov said at a news conference in Beijing.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Iraq's consent on the missile order was "an important step" and "confirms that inspectors are getting results." He would not say whether France would use its veto against the U.S-backed resolution.

Discounts progress

At the White House, press secretary Ari Fleischer dismissed the idea that the Iraqi decision reflected progress toward disarmament. "This is the deception the president predicted. We do expect that they will destroy at least some of their missiles," he said.

But President Bush won't settle for anything less than full disarmament, Fleischer said. "The Iraqi regime is a deception wrapped in a lie."

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad's disarmament efforts had been "very limited so far," fueling U.S. and British arguments that Iraq is failing to comply with its obligations.

Diplomats privately described the atmosphere in the council as bitter and demoralizing, but many held out hope that a compromise could be reached among the council's five major powers.

Pakistan's support

In Islamabad, a senior government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Pakistan will likely vote with the United States at the council.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, but its powerful religious leaders oppose war with Iraq. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met separately today with envoys from both the United States and Iraq, each seeking to sway Islamabad.

Musharraf "underlined Iraq's responsibility for complete and immediate verifiable disarmament," said a government statement.

Pakistani officials say voting against the United States is not an option, though they say it could abstain.

Nine votes short

But despite signs of new support, Washington is still shy of the nine votes it needs to get the resolution adopted. Some council members said they could support the U.S. plan if it were open to negotiation. A senior U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, hinted there may be some wiggle room but not on substance.

The leaders of the United States' strongest backers, Britain and Spain, dismissed Baghdad's decision to comply with the missile order.

Saddam Hussein "never makes any concessions at all other than with the threat of force hanging over him," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today after talks with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Aznar.

Aznar said he was confident the resolution would win approval.

"We want to the find the biggest and the widest agreement within the Security Council," he said. "We hope that increasing pressure on the Iraqi regime will be the best way to serve the wishes of peace of so many millions of people and countries around the world."

In a letter to Blix on Thursday, Iraq agreed "in principle" to destroy the Al Samoud 2 missiles, which were found to have a range exceeding the 93-mile limit set by the Security Council at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Sources in Baghdad today confirmed the destruction would begin Saturday, the deadline set by Blix.

Iraq complains

Iraq maintains some of the missiles overshot the limit because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems, making them lighter. In the letter, Iraq said it believes the decision to destroy the missiles was "unjust," and politically motivated.

Blix will appear before the council next week to discuss the findings in his 17-page report, which details the work of his staff in Iraq over the past three months.

Key portion

In a key section of the report, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Blix says Saddam could have made greater efforts "to find remaining proscribed items or credible evidence showing the absence of such items."

Although Blix noted some recent Iraqi cooperation, he said: "It is hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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