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Bush open to delaying vote



Published: Thu, March 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Iraq delighted in the diplomatic turmoil among U.N. Security Council members.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a reversal, the White House said today that President Bush is open to briefly delaying a vote on his U.N. war resolution until next week if the postponement would help gain support for the measure.

"It may conclude tomorrow. It may continue into next week," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

As the vote was delayed, White House officials scrambled to organize an overseas trip for Bush, two senior White House officials said. They declined to say where he was going.

Bush's chief spokesman has said for days that the vote would be held this week. A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president decided a few extra days of diplomacy might help British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is facing stiff domestic opposition to war while he tries to forge a compromise.

The U.S.-British backed resolution under consideration sets a Monday deadline for Iraq to disarm. Pushing back the deadline for a vote likely means that deadline would be delayed as well.

"The president is willing to go the extra mile for diplomacy," Fleischer said. "There is a limit on how far he's willing to do."

He said Bush was still committed to staging a U.N. vote.

More criticism of France

U.S. officials had said earlier that France is sending the wrong message to Iraq's Saddam Hussein by threatening to veto a United Nations resolution that would order him to disarm immediately or face war.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that the stand of French President Jacques Chirac is making it less likely Iraq can be disarmed peacefully, and the White House suggested for the first time that voting against the resolution in the U.N. Security Council could damage a country's relationship with the United States.

France, along with Russia, has threatened to veto the resolution should it receive the nine Security Council votes necessary for approval.

"Unfortunately, President Chirac has said that no matter what, they're going to veto the resolution," Boucher said. "I suppose that factor needs to be taken into account by all those who are proceeding here.

"But frankly, saying that he'll veto the resolution no matter what sends precisely the wrong signal to Baghdad, precisely the wrong signal for those who want peaceful disarmament," Boucher said.

Diplomacy blitz

Prospects for passage of a new Security Council resolution backing the use of force were uncertain today. However, the U.S. diplomatic campaign appeared to be making headway with three African countries.

The administration probably would seek a vote by the council Friday, according to U.S. officials, unless it opts for postponement.

Needing the support of at least nine of the 15 members of the Security Council, the administration was concentrating on fence-sitters who could determine the fate of the resolution.

A senior U.S. official, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said there are strong indications the three African members, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea, would vote with the United States.

British offer rejected

Meanwhile, Iraq reveled today in the diplomatic turmoil and rejected British Prime Minister Tony Blair's effort to find a compromise over an ultimatum for Saddam.

Blair's compromise would abandon a proposed Monday deadline for Iraq to fully disarm or face war, instead giving Saddam a six-point to-do list of disarmament tasks to avoid "serious consequences."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said it amounted to the same thing.

"It is an attempt to beautify a rejected aggressive project," he told journalists. "[Britain] is trying to polish this project, which has been rejected by the majority of Security Council members."

Asked whether Iraq opposed the British list, he said: "Of course. We reject any project contrary to resolutions already adopted by the Security Council."

"The United States, with its policy of aggression, wants international cover for this aggression," he added. "I don't think the United States will succeed."

France, which had threatened to veto the Monday deadline, also rejected the British compromise because the list of disarmament requirements presumably would come with a short deadline.

Germany, a nonpermanent Security Council member without veto power, said the plan was unlikely to yield a compromise because it still "basically gives an authorization for war."

Iraq: We've won

Iraqi newspapers gloated over the turmoil.

"It is obvious that Bush and Blair have lost the round before it starts, while we, along with well-intentioned powers in the world, have won it," the popular daily Babil, owned by Saddam's son Odai, said in a front-page editorial.

"Blair's future is at stake now, and his downfall will be a harsh lesson in Britain's political history," it said.

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

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




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