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British Alter U.N. Resolution To Increase Odds of Passage In Attempt to Prevent Vetoes

By Karen DeYoung

and Colum Lynch
THE WASHINGTON POST -- British officials sought urgently Monday to retool a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war against Iraq after a majority of council members indicated they would not vote for it in its current form, diplomats and Bush administration officials said.

Britain hopes that additions to the resolution, which declares Iraq has failed in its final opportunity to fully and immediately surrender its weapons of mass destruction, will garner nine of the 15 council votes necessary for passage. Diplomats engaged in near round-the-clock negotiations at U.N. headquarters in New York, in visits to capitals and in lengthy telephone consultations. But it was not at all certain that the proposed changes, including an extension of the resolution’s March 17 deadline and the addition of “benchmarks” to judge Iraqi disarmament, would win a council majority.

The resolution appeared doomed in any case, as France and Russia, permanent council members with veto power, said Monday that no revision would satisfy them. “Whatever happens, France will vote no,” President Jacques Chirac told reporters in a domestic television interview. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the resolution contains “unfulfillable ultimatum-type demands,” and that Russia would vote against it. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believes that even a vetoed resolution, as long as it has a council majority, would help temper strong anti-war opposition in his country. The Bush administration, which has deployed more than 200,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region and is ready to move against Iraq, sees any delay as playing into the hands of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and further undermining flagging U.S. public and political support for an invasion. President Bush said last week that he does not need U.N. permission to go to war.

On Monday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer continued a line of argument that the administration began to use publicly last week, equating the “coalition of the willing” that Bush has said would join in U.S. military action against Iraq to the United Nations itself.

“If the United Nations fails to act,” he said, “that means the United Nations will not be the international body that disarms Saddam Hussein. Another international body will. ...So this will remain an international action.”

Even if the resolution ends up failing because of a permanent member veto, Fleischer said, “from a moral point of view,” the world was likely to see U.N. refusal to sanction military intervention in Iraq as akin to U.N. “failures” to stop tribal genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72 saw the situation differently, saying at a news conference in the Hague Monday that the United States lacks the legal authority to launch a military attack on Iraq. “The [U.N.] charter is very clear on the circumstance under which force can be used,” he said. “If the United States and others were to go outside the council to take military action it would not be in conformity with the charter.”

While the administration has gone along with Britain’s diplomatic efforts out of recognition of the opposition Blair faces at home, it has made clear there are firm limits on how far the concessions can go and how long discussions should continue.