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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 09:44 GMT
UN decision day on Iraq
Pro-Saddam rally in Tikrit, Iraq
Iraq says it is prepared for war
A last, short round of diplomacy lies ahead at the UN Security Council, as indications grow of an imminent US-led attack on Iraq.

US President George W Bush said Monday would be a "moment of truth for the world", after a summit with his UK and Spanish allies in the Azores.

The Security Council faces a Monday night deadline to agree a new resolution demanding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's immediate disarmament.

But France has once again said that it cannot accept a second resolution on Iraq authorising an automatic use of force.

The comments by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin were swiftly echoed by a senior Russian official, Yuri Fedotov, who said the current draft resolution had "no chance" of being approved by the Security Council.

The Security Council is scheduled to hold a closed door meeting at 1000 local time (1500 GMT) on Monday, a UN spokesman said.

White House officials suggest that if it quickly becomes obvious that no progress can be made, President Bush could address the American people on Monday night.

The BBC's Washington correspondent says the speech will not be an immediate declaration of war, but it will give Saddam Hussein only a few further hours to leave Iraq or face an attack.

President George W Bush

Iraq has reacted defiantly to President Bush's ultimatum, saying a war would be fought all over the world.

In the capital, Baghdad, the BBC's Andrew Gilligan says most people now believe war is imminent - enormous queues have formed at petrol stations and government ministries are moving out their computers, faxes and other valuables.

US forces in the Gulf now exceed 250,000 personnel and both US and UK forces say they are ready for any military assault.

    In other developments:

  • The US orders non-essential diplomats out of Kuwait, Israel and Syria

  • The UK tells all Britons, except diplomatic staff, to leave Kuwait.

  • The UN stops monitoring operations on Kuwait's border with Iraq

  • UK Prime Minister Tony Blair faces revolt among MPs from his own Labour Party over war with Iraq

Frustration

The US, UK and Spanish summit in the Azores represented a final push to try to obtain enough support among Security Council members to make a vote on a new resolution worthwhile.

After weeks of diplomatic wrangling, the US, UK and Spain - who need nine sympathetic votes on the 15-seat Security Council - have only managed to win certain support from council member Bulgaria.

At a news conference after Sunday's summit, President Bush made clear his frustration with France's threat to veto a second resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq.

Airman on flight deck of US carrier Kitty Hawk
US forces in the Gulf have topped the "magic number" of 250,000

"We have an expression in Texas that says, 'Show your cards'," he said.

"France has shown its card. Now we have to see tomorrow [Monday] what that card meant."

Mr Blair also made "a final appeal for there to be that strong unified message on behalf of the international community" to Saddam Hussein in what correspondents say was aimed at the French.

After an hour or so of talks, the three leaders emerged not only to deliver their ultimatum but to point to their vision of a post-Saddam Iraq.

Iraqi 'martyrs' ready

The UK leader pledged that in the event of war, Iraq's territorial integrity would be protected and the country's natural resources would be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

His Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Aznar, said they were ready for one last effort for peace, and that if Saddam Hussein wanted to prevent a war, he should do it now by disarming.

Against the background of last-ditch diplomacy, the UN's chief weapons inspector Hans Blix continues to prepare a programme to submit to the Security Council on how to complete the disarmament process in Iraq.

Dr Blix called the situation "very threatening", but he said that unless there was a sudden decision to withdraw the UN team from Iraq, inspectors would continue to work as normal.

Saddam Hussein appeared prepared for war, warning that if Iraq is attacked the battle will be "wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told an Arabic television station that tens of thousands of Iraqi men and women were ready to be martyrs for any war against the "treacherous" American enemy.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Behind the scenes US and British diplomats are making one last round of calls"



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