Posted by Tony from 63-93-69-75.lsan.dial.netzero.com (18.104.22.168) on Sunday, September 29, 2002 at 3:23AM :
US, Britain open Iraq diplomatic offensive
Jon Henley in Paris, Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow, Oliver Burkeman in New York and Nicholas Watt
Saturday September 28, 2002
France and Russia last night bluntly rebuffed concerted diplomatic efforts by senior US and British officials to persuade their fellow permanent members of the UN security council to back a resolution threatening Iraq with military action.
George Bush telephoned the French president, but Jacques Chirac was implacable, remaining "more than ever" in favour of an alternative two-step approach, with a first resolution covering the return of arms inspectors followed, if Baghdad fails to comply, by one laying out the consequences, his spokeswoman said.
Russia also rejected British and US overtures, expressing scepticism over claims that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, while China warned of the "incalculable consequences" of a unilateral US strike.
The US under-secretary of state for political affairs, Marc Grossman, and the Foreign Of fice political director, Peter Ricketts, travelled to Paris for talks yesterday and were due to fly on to Moscow today. William Ehrman, the most senior Foreign Office official dedicated to defence issues, was dispatched to Beijing.
The Chinese premier, Zhu Rongji, visiting Paris, said the world must "respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity... if we do not have the authorisation of the security council, we cannot launch a military attack on Iraq - otherwise, there would be incalculable consequences".
Mr Grossman's mission followed an agreement reached by the US and Britain on Thursday on a draft resolution warning Iraq of "serious consequences" if it does not comply with UN weapons inspection and disarmament demands.
President Bush, visiting Denver yesterday, restated his willingness to work with the UN. "I'm willing to give peace a chance. I want the United Nations to work," he said, but warned that the Iraqi leader should "either get rid of his weapons and the United Nations can act, or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm this man".
Mr Chirac said late on Thursday that France had won the backing of China for a two-step approach, beginning, his spokeswoman Catherine Colonna told Reuters, with a resolution demanding "the rapid and unconditional return of UN inspectors to Iraq".
The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, said yesterday, on the eve of the British-US delegation's arrival, that there was "no definite proof" to support US claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
The text of the Anglo-American draft is not expected to be presented to the other council members until Monday.
The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, will also speak to his counterparts from France, Russia and China over the weekend.
The delay means that no UN security council resolution will be agreed by the time Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, meets Iraqi officials in Vienna on Monday.
Meanwhile, organisers of today's Stop the War march in central London are predicting that more than 100,000 protesters will voice their opposition to action against Iraq. They are hoping the march, which begins at 12.30pm at Embankment, will be Britain's biggest ever anti-war march.
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