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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 10:32 GMT
Veto powers reject US ultimatum
Pro-Saddam rally in Tikrit, Iraq
Iraq says it is prepared for war
France and Russia are resisting fresh pressure not to block a new UN resolution against Iraq, as US preparations continue for what appears to be an imminent war.

In the face of a deadline of Monday night set by the US, there was no sign of a change of tack by either Paris or Moscow - both of whom have threatened to veto a motion authorising military action while weapons inspections continue in Iraq.

France cannot accept the resolution on the table that lays down an ultimatum. I do not see how this resolution can be envisaged
French Foreign Minister
Dominique de Villepin

On Monday, one of the chief arms inspectors, Mohamed ElBaradei, confirmed that the US had advised his agency to start pulling its experts from the country.

President George W Bush declared Monday would see the "moment of truth for the world", as he issued the deadline for the UN at a summit with the UK and Spanish prime ministers.

'Unacceptable'

But the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin once again said a second resolution was unacceptable, while a senior Russian official, Yuri Fedotov, insisted such a motion had "no chance" of getting through.

China - another veto-wielding opponent of military action - remained adamant on Monday that the Iraq issue should resolved through the UN.

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

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

Iraqi government officials have 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 meeting of US, UK and Spanish leaders - which Iraq has branded a "summit of outlaws" - 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, they have only managed to win certain support on the 15-seat Security Council from Bulgaria whereas they need nine sympathetic votes.

At a news conference after Sunday's summit, President Bush made clear his frustration with France's threat to veto a second resolution.

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."

UK Prime Minister Tony 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.

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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