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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 14:39 GMT
Allies to hold Iraq crisis summit
An American army Humvee guards a convoy as it travels north out of Kuwait City, Kuwait,
The US is ready to act without UN approval if necessary
President George W Bush is to hold emergency talks with British and Spanish leaders on Sunday amid diplomatic deadlock at the UN Security Council over their plans for disarming Iraq.

The three countries co-sponsored a draft resolution that would have given Baghdad until next Monday to disarm or face a US-led war.

But despite frantic diplomatic efforts, they have so far failed to win backing for their position, while France and Russia have threatened to veto any resolution that authorises war.

Mr Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will meet in the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The meeting was aimed at a "final pursuit" of a UN resolution, Mr Fleischer said.

"We are still pursuing the vote next week. We have not said what date," he said.

Next steps

But the BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says it is increasingly likely that attempts to secure a resolution will soon be abandoned.

Diplomats in New York and Washington say it has failed to win the support even of a majority of members of the Security Council.

The US had already backtracked on a demand for a vote by the end of this week on the resolution and indicated it might proceed to military action without UN approval at all.

The Security Council
We will say no to any resolution authorising the use of force in the current circumstances
Jean-Marc de La Sabliere
French ambassador to UN

The problem for President Bush is how to back down from his tough call last week for there to be a vote, whatever the outcome, our correspondent says.

One option may be to use the summit meeting as cover for a decision; Mr Bush could say he is deferring to his European allies.

Before the summit was announced, French President Jacques Chirac and Mr Blair spoke by telephone, but they again failed to reach an accord on the way forward to disarm Iraq.

Mr Chirac said he was ready to work with Britain, but he still rejected any UN resolution that would automatically trigger military action, French officials said.

Mr Blair said the existing UN resolution - 1441 - had already warned Iraq of serious consequences if it failed to disarm.

Britain and the United States say that already gives them the legal right to use force, although others disagree.

No ultimatum

Germany, another Security Council member which also opposes military action, is continuing to insist that the weapons inspectors in Iraq must be allowed to continue their work.

"We must have the courage to fight for peace as long as there is a scrap of hope that war can be avoided," Mr Schroeder said in a speech to the German parliament, the Bundestag.

Faced with deeply divided views at the UN, the UK Government put forward a series of tasks for Baghdad to perform to allay suspicions about its weapons programmes and avert war.

But the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Yuri Fedotov, said the proposals were "not constructive" and made the draft resolution look even more like an ultimatum to Iraq.

The US, UK and Spain need a minimum of nine votes in the 15-member Security Council for the resolution to be approved.

But with France threatening to use its veto, none of the six key undecided nations on the Council has so far been won over.

Indeed, one of the six, Chile, appears to have hardened its stance. Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said her government could not support the resolution as it stands.

The six are reported to be preparing their own proposals to find a way out of the impasse.

Nerve gas

The Iraqi authorities are due to submit documents about VX nerve gas to the UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, in New York later in the day, and a similar submission about anthrax is expected over the next few days.

Picture of Saddam Hussein
The Iraqi leadership is enjoying the diplomatic stalemate
The Iraqis say they dumped all their anthrax and nerve gas in landfill sites outside Baghdad in 1991.

UN scientists say although it is relatively easy to establish the presence of these lethal substances, it is difficult to determine the exact quantities.

The Iraqi authorities hope the detailed information will convince the UN that they disposed of all their banned weapons stocks.

Meanwhile, American military preparations are continuing apace with the deployment of around a dozen warships from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

The vessels - cruisers and destroyers - are loaded with Tomahawk missiles whose satellite-guided firepower would be used in the early stages of a war.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"In New York the last gasp of diplomacy is taking place at the UN Security Council"



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