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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 14:15 GMT
UN Council battle in the balance

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

UN weapons inspectors drive by a group of Iraqi children as they enter a cigarette factory in Baghdad
The UN weapons inspectors' draft report has been used by both sides

With a vote in the Security Council on Iraq in the balance, evidence of Iraqi compliance or otherwise is being presented and contested as in the most tense of court cases.

On the one hand, Iraq has now said that it is willing to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles of which it has about 100.

These have been declared by the UN to be capable of going beyond the 150-kilometre (95-mile) range permitted.

The chief UN weapons inspector Mr Hans Blix had ordered Iraq to start destroying them by 1 March.

Rejected

Such evidence of Iraqi co-operation helps the case against early or any military action.

But even this is rejected by President Bush who says that the rockets are but "the tip of an iceberg".

United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq
France and Russia say inspections are working

On the other hand, a draft report by Mr Blix says that that "the results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far".

He added: "It is hard to understand why a number of measures which are now being taken, could not have been initiated earlier."

The written report is expected to be handed over to the Council on Saturday 1 March.

Does this close the case for the US and UK?

Not at all, say France, Germany and Russia. Mr Blix also listed areas where there had been progress and this, they say, is a sign that, given time, the inspections process could work...

Stops pulled out

British diplomats say that there is "still a lot of hard diplomacy" ahead as the United States and Britain battle to get a majority on the Security Council for their draft resolution declaring that Iraq has failed to take its "final opportunity" to disarm.

"We do not overestimate our chances or underestimate the difficulties," said one official.

All the stops on the diplomatic organ are being pulled out.

The British UN Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock told the Council in a closed session on Thursday that Britain had evidence that Iraq continued to make poison gases.

After the meeting he refused to elaborate but simply said that "the claim by Iraq that there is a zero in terms of its weapons of mass destruction is a lie".

He also pressed the point that Iraqi scientists were still not properly available for interviews but instead had come equipped with "tape recorders and bugs".

Vote uncertainty

In this atmosphere, though, what one side calls a glass half full, the other calls half empty.

With such conflicting pieces of evidence swirling about, yet another and probably oral report by Mr Blix to the Council expected on 7 March assumes an even greater significance.

That is because the US and UK are likely to force a vote on their draft resolution in the following week.

What Mr Blix says on 7 March will therefore help to determine the final votes on the council.

Americans officials are said to be reasonably confident that they can get three African votes on the Council - Angola, Guinea and Cameroon.

These votes, added to those of the US, UK, Spain and Bulgaria, would give seven to the supporters of the resolution.

However, nine of the 15 votes are needed to pass a resolution.

Mexico and Chile, the two Latin Americans, are more uncertain.

Rough times ahead

They are both suggesting that a Canadian plan to set Iraq a deadline of the end of March is worth considering. Pakistan's decision also remains in doubt.

Washington is also trying to detach Russia from the French and Germans.

The tactic seems to be to get the Russians to abstain at least.

That would leave the French with a possible dilemma if it was the only one of the permanent five members ready to wield the veto.

And it would be easier for Britain at least to join military action without a new resolution if the single veto came from the French.

It is getting rough in the Security Council and it could get rougher.




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