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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Powell presses UN for Iraq action
People walk past a mural in Baghdad
Baghdad is remaining defiant over weapons inspections
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he is encouraged by the response to his latest round of lobbying to win United Nations support for action against Iraq.

He is at UN headquarters in New York trying to get backing for a resolution on Iraq at the Security Council and says he hopes that work on drafting the resolution will be under way by the end of the week.

I don't like the idea of our planes being shot at ...the idea that our planes go out and get shot at with impunity bothers me

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has meanwhile confirmed that he has ordered US and allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq to increase damage to Iraqi targets.

With the pressure growing on Iraq, there is speculation that Baghdad may be about to make its own proposals to the UN on readmitting weapons inspectors.

Mr Powell will have to persuade at least nine of the 15 members of the council to pass any resolution for action against Iraq and convince the five permanent members not to use their vetoes.

Finding friends

He has already held talks with officials from Turkey, where air bases would be crucial for military action against neighbouring Iraq.

Earlier, Washington received a major boost as Saudi Arabia indicated it could allow US forces access to bases on its territory from which to launch strikes on Baghdad - provided the action is endorsed by the UN.

Colin Powell
Powell is hoping for a vote by the end of the week
Also on Mr Powell's schedule is a meeting with the foreign minister of Syria - currently a member of the Security Council - who defended Iraq and accused the US of "blind bias" in a blistering speech to the General Assembly on Sunday.

In order to get a resolution passed, the US needs a majority vote in the Security Council and to avoid a veto from any of the five permanent members, which are China, Russia, Britain and France apart from the US itself.

The 10 temporary members are Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Syria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Guinea and Ireland.

A vote could take place within weeks.

BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds says that diplomats think that with a bit of pressure, it is not impossible for the US to get many of the temporary members on its side.

To that end Mr Powell is also scheduled to meet the foreign ministers of Cameroon, Colombia and Mexico on Monday.

Home front

Mr Rumsfeld said he had been concerned that air strikes by allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq had been put at risk.

Key US air bases:
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Turkey
  • Oman

  • He had therefore directed the allied planes to attack more fixed air defences, like communications buildings, rather than mobile radars.

    Mr Rumsfeld sidestepped questions about whether the action was to soften Iraq up for a military strike, saying only that the intention was to reduce Iraq's overall defence capabilities.

    With that growing pressure, there are reports that Baghdad might be about to launch its own diplomatic offensive, possibly with an offer to readmit weapons inspectors.

    However, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that every previous offer made by the Iraqis had just been an attempt by them to avoid doing what they were required to do.

    Mr Rumsfeld said that as Mr Bush considers his course of action, officials will take his case to Congress in the coming days.

    "What will be taking place in the Congress in the next few weeks will be to connect the dots before a tragedy happens, not after," he said.

    "The goal is to take the pieces and make people understand it isn't simple... There is no single smoking gun.

    "If we wait for a smoking gun you'll find it will come after the fact, after weapons of mass destruction have been used against the United States or its allies," Mr Rumsfeld said.

    The BBC's Greg Barrow at UN headquarters
    "Their efforts to win round world opinion are starting to bear fruit"
    Exiled Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza
    "Going at him is dangerous - not doing it is even worse"
    Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter
    "We are closer to a war than ever"

    Key stories





    See also:

    16 Sep 02 | Middle East
    16 Sep 02 | Politics
    16 Sep 02 | Middle East
    14 Sep 02 | Middle East
    13 Sep 02 | Middle East
    12 Sep 02 | Middle East
    16 Sep 02 | Middle East
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