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Poodle pleas with $hrub to delay IraqWar

Tactical differences have emerged between London and an impatient Bush Administration, with Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, suggesting that the crunch meeting of the UN could take place on March 14.
Britain in plea to US for Iraq war delay

By Philip Webster, Political Editor and Roland Watson in Washington

Blair wants March 14 crunch talks at UN

BRITAIN has mounted a behind-the-scenes operation to persuade America to give diplomacy three more weeks before the United Nations is asked to trigger military action against Iraq.

Tactical differences have emerged between London and an impatient Bush Administration, with Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, suggesting that the crunch meeting of the UN could take place on March 14.

They argue that the delay could provide enough time to convince France and other waverers that President Saddam Hussein has failed to co- operate with the inspectors and that a war resolution should be approved. The Prime Minister hinted at the moves when he told his monthly press conference yesterday that he still wanted a second resolution. He added: "I still think there is a lot of debate to go on before we get to the point of decision there in the United Nations."

France showed no sign of softening its position, however. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, insisted that it was gaining "more and more backing" for averting war through strengthened weapons inspections.

In high-level negotiations over the past few days, America has balked at allowing a delay much beyond February 28, the day that Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, appears before the Security Council. Washington is concerned not only that the diplomatic process could be strung out indefinitely, but that undue delay could undermine its military planning.

Senior diplomatic sources said last night that a compromise was likely, with the meeting being held about a week later, probably on March 6 or 7. The issue has been discussed by Mr Straw and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State.

Talks were at a delicate stage yesterday, but the sources suggested that London and Washington wanted to reach agreement before Mr Blair next speaks to President Bush, probably at the end of this week. The developments are a further sign of Mr Blair's determination to get UN authority for going to war with Iraq. He insisted several times during yesterday's press conference in London that a majority of British voters would support action if it were approved by a second UN resolution.

America is well aware of the political pressures on Mr Blair, and President Bush went further than before in saying yesterday that he wanted to secure fresh UN authority to use force. "We want to work with our friends and allies to see if we can get a second resolution," he said.

It was also announced yesterday that Mr Blair, accompanied by his wife, Cherie, will meet the Pope in Rome on Saturday after his visit to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister. Pope John Paul has emerged as one of the leading opponents of military action.

Although officials insisted that he and Mr Blair had expressed a mutual interest in meeting some time ago, it is inevitable that Iraq will figure in their discussions. Mr Blair has shown an interest in Roman Catholicism and his wife is a Catholic, but friends denied that his visit signalled any intention to convert.

Mr Blair told reporters that war was not inevitable, that there had been no rush to war and that he wanted to work through the UN. But he left no doubt that if disarmament did not happen by agreement then the "barbarous" Saddam regime must be tackled by force. Several times he said that the issue would be settled "over the next few weeks". And, referring to the state of play at the UN, he added: "I don't think the position is quite as settled as people think."

He and Mr Straw believe that the February 28 date favoured by Washington is probably too early for the doubters. France originally proposed a meeting on March 14. That date could still be fixed upon if it meant that France were certain to back the US and Britain.

An early draft of a US-British resolution declares Iraq in "continuing material breach" of its obligations. It calls for the Security Council to reinforce the initial resolution, 1441, which threatened force if Baghdad failed to comply. But it does not contain an explicit reference to military action.

Mr Bush, appearing before reporters for the first time since Friday's setback at the UN for Britain and the US, made overtures to the Security Council, saying he wanted the UN to be an important body.

Asked if he was concerned that Mr Blair would pay the ultimate price for his support for a war, he said: "Any time somebody shows courage when it comes to peace, the people will eventually understand that."

British and American Intelligence are tracking three giant cargo ships which they believe may be carrying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (Emma Hartley writes).

The ships, which have maintained radio silence in apparent violation of maritime law, left port in late November shortly after Hans Blix and his team of international weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq. The vessels have spent much of their time in the Indian Ocean but are also believed to have berthed in a handful of Arab countries including Yemen.

The Ministry of Defence said last night: "We never comment on intelligence matters."

homepage: homepage: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-583188,00.html
address: address: Times Online

Let it be March 14 19.Feb.2003 01:42

perfect timing...

a march 14 meeting of the un security council would fit very nicely with a march 15 peace march of about 50 million people, or more, worldwide.