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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 10:44 GMT
Analysis: Bush warning overshadows Blix

By Paul Reynolds
News Online world affairs correspondent

President Bush's warning that the United States wants members of the Security Council to "show their cards" over Iraq has overshadowed the report due shortly from the chief weapons inspectors.

It suggests that the United States is on the verge of taking the final decision to go to war, whatever the vote in the Council.

Dr Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector
Blix: Reports to UN have failed to break deadlock
It appears at the same time that Britain has blinked in the face of strong opposition to the draft resolution declaring that Iraq has missed its "final opportunity".

The UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed on his way to New York that the UK was exploring at least the possibility of setting a short deadline lasting some "days" only.

A deadline might enable some undecided countries to sign up - but it might not, especially if the deadline is a token one.

Canada has suggested giving Iraq until the end of the month.

The UK Government is nervous about its chances of getting the follow-up resolution it wants. Without such a resolution, public and political support for a war would be at risk.

'Unreasonable veto'

But Prime Minister Tony Blair has also made it clear that if there is no compromise, then he is prepared to go to war "if there was a veto by countries I thought were applying a veto unreasonably".

The concept of an "unreasonable" veto is a novel one for the Security Council, and its invention is a sign of the mess the council has got into.

The problem is that the US and UK have just not been able to convince other members of the Council that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction.

And the progress made by the inspectors - in destroying some of the Al Samoud 2 rockets, for example - has led a powerful coalition of France, Russia and Germany, now joined by China, to suggest giving the inspection teams at least another four months in which to do their job.

It was not supposed to be like this.

Power politics

Resolution 1441, adopted in November, has not proved to be the precision weapon it was supposed to be.

It has instead allowed for different interpretations of the same evidence and has failed to prevent a resurgence of big power politics, which the Security Council was set up to prevent.

UN weapons inspectors at Al-Tuwaith, formerly a main site of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme
Testing times: Inspectors' role is under scrutiny
Instead of agreement, as there was over the need to remove Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, there is a fundamental divide between the United States and some key allies.

And Europe is experiencing the collapse for the indefinite future of attempts to get a common foreign policy on significant issues where there is disagreement.

The chief inspectors, Dr Hans Blix and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, will have to be much more decisive than they have been previously when they address the Council on Friday if they are to break the deadlock.

Missing material

To say that Iraq has done something but needs to do more will not be enough.

An inconclusive report would enable the US and UK to argue that the time has come to take a decision about military action - but it would equally encourage the anti-war faction to argue for more time.

The six countries in the middle - Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan - will find their decision even more difficult.

Dr Blix will no doubt concentrate on an area which he has focused on before - urging Iraq to account for chemical and biological material which is still missing.

He will also report on the important question of interviews with scientists.

Some UN officials have predicted that will complain that Iraq has a tactic of offering concessions only when a new report is due.

Metal tubes

On this occasion, for example, it has promised documentation on the destruction of the missing material but not until next week, leaving the issue unresolved for Friday's Council meeting.

One of the key points to look for in the report of Dr ElBaradei, the nuclear inspector, is whether he has reached a conclusion about thousands of metal tubes Iraq tried to import illegally.

Iraq says they were for rockets; the US has suggested they were for uranium enrichment.

However, such detail is now getting swept aside by the broad thrust of politics in the Council.

If no compromise is found, then the US and UK can be expected to declare that diplomacy is at an end and that military action will begin, claiming legal justification in 1441 and previous resolutions.

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