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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 07:04 GMT
Iraq: A double veto?

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The prospect of a double veto by Russia and France of a new Security Council resolution on Iraq has been raised by the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov

UN weapons inspectors drive by a group of Iraqi children
The latest UN report said there had been limited progress
He said in a BBC interview and later at a news conference after talks in London with the UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, that Russia would "take a position."

"Russia will not abstain," he declared.

If France also wields its veto, as must now be considered possible, it would deny the United States and Britain the vote they seek and they would be thrown back on resolution 1441 to claim legitimacy for an invasion.

British hopes of detaching Russia from the French position therefore appear to have been dashed
But Russia also disputes that 1441 does provide legal cover. Mr Ivanov, speaking in the Foreign Office in London with Mr Straw at his side, said that 1441 did not "contain provisions for the automatic use of force."

Earlier in the day, Mr Straw had told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that 1441 contained "sufficient legal authority."

British hopes of detaching Russia from the French position therefore appear to have been dashed.

Combative Straw

The Foreign Secretary gave a combative performance in front of the Committee, showing no sign that Britain is wavering in its support for the United States.

He was given a gentler time from some Conservative members, who support military action, than he was by the Labour party Committee Chairman Donald Anderson. Mr Anderson suggested that the British government threat to bypass the result of a second resolution was "dangerous."

Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it by resolution 1441
Draft resolution

This Friday, 7 March, the chief weapons inspectors Dr Hans Blix and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei will deliver further reports to the Council on the level of Iraqi compliance.

On them may hinge the outcome of a vote on the new resolution which is likely to be held between Monday, 10 March and Friday, 14 March.

It is possible that the US and UK might decide not to put the issue to a vote if they knew in advance that it would fail. This is one reason why both governments are stressing that they could go on the basis of 1441 and previous resolutions.

British officials have not given up, in public at least. They are using the "It's not over until the fat lady sings" argument - that there is some way to go yet.

They and the Americans still hope that they can muster the nine votes needed to pass a resolution and that this would give them a technical or "moral" majority even if vetoes were used.

The new draft resolution states that Iraq has "failed to take the final opportunity" afforded to it to disarm.

Leapfrogging

President Bush meanwhile is indicating that he has made his mind up, however the Council votes and whatever Iraq does now.

For him, a positive vote would be useful but it would not be necessary.

The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government - that choice belongs to the Iraqi people
President Bush
Look for example at what the president did in his weekly radio address on Saturday. He engaged in what has become known as "leapfrogging" - that is, he looked ahead to what happens in Iraq next.

He took it as beyond argument that Saddam Hussein would be removed.

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another", said Mr Bush.

So, Iraq's last minute moves, such as its destruction of its al-Samoud II rockets, will make no impact in Washington.

The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, borrowing from a similar phrase used by Churchill about the Soviet Union, described the Iraqi move as "propaganda wrapped in a lie inside a falsehood."

Missing material

Iraq has now also promised a paper explaining what happened to the so-called "missing material".

These are stocks of anthrax and VX nerve agent which the UN has suspected that Iraq is keeping.

Iraq has always said that the material was destroyed but could not produce enough evidence to prove its case.

This move is unlikely to impress the US or UK.

Mr Straw dismissed it as the "trickling out of so-called concessions one at a time to buy more time while continuing a policy of concealment."

He claimed that Iraq could still manufacture a range of chemical and biological weapons and was hiding its stocks by moving them every 12 hours.


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