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Powell: U.S. may have enough U.N. votes, but France likely to veto

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that the United States might win a majority of votes this week in the United Nations Security Council for a U.S.-backed final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, but that the resolution still could be vetoed by France.

Powell did not identify any new Council members that now intend to vote with America, and he made clear that with or without U.N. support, America intends to invade Iraq soon unless Saddam proves within days that he is disarming. If a majority of Council members endorse the attack however, that would add the United Nation's moral legitimacy to the action and perhaps reduce resentment of it around the world.

"We will have to wait and see when the vote is taken sometime this week, but I am encouraged by the discussions I have been having with a number of members of the council," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

A vote could come as soon as Tuesday.

"I think most of the elected 10 members are making up their judgments, their minds over this weekend, and I've been in close contact with them," he said. "I'm encouraged we might get the nine or 10 votes needed to get passage of the resolution, and we'll see if somebody wants to veto."

The U.S.-British-Spanish-backed resolution would give Iraq until March 17 to disarm or face war. The United States needs nine votes from the 15-member Security Council, made up of five permanent members, each with veto power, and 10 elected members.

Three permanent members—France, Russia, and China—have vowed to block it. France, in particular, has taken the lead in opposing any step toward war.

"I would not be surprised if they vetoed," Powell said on Fox News. "It would be unfortunate if France decided to veto this resolution and France would not be looked upon favorably in many parts."

The only other declared votes so far for the U.S.-backed ultimatum come from Spain and Bulgaria. But President Bush, Powell and other top U.S. officials have been pressing the 10 elected Council members very hard to side with America, even as French President Jacques Chirac has tried to rally them against the resolution.

White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that "we've not really done a serious vote count at this point. We have some indications here and there."

The foreign minister of Guinea, a Security Council member, will meet with senior administration officials this week in Washington, Rice said.

"If the United Nations Security Council does act in a positive way, and we hope it will, then clearly military force will be appropriate and there will be support for that through the United Nations," Powell said. "If the United Nations Security Council fails to act the president has always said he reserves his option" to act without U.N. backing.

If anything, U.N. rejection of a resolution giving Iraq until March 17 to disarm could accelerate war rather than delay it, Powell implied. Absent a formal ultimatum, the United States would be free to act before that date, he suggested.

After the U.N. vote, Bush intends to issue a public ultimatum to Saddam telling him to disarm or face invasion within days, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. That Bush speech will be a warning as well to any arms inspectors or humanitarian aid workers inside Iraq that the time has come to leave, the officials said.

Bush's somber mood was on display Saturday night when he attended the annual Gridiron Club satire staged by elite Washington newspaper editors and writers. Customarily presidents deliver a humorous speech at the event, but Bush confined his remarks to a brief toast to the men and women in uniform, and their families.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien warned Sunday that a U.S.-led war might encourage other nations to launch pre-emptive attacks.

"It might be considered as a precedent for others to try to do the same thing," Chretien said on ABC's "This Week." "Where do you stop? You know, if you can do that there, why not elsewhere?"

Powell disputed that the United States is acting alone, noting support from nations including Australia, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the independent nations of the former Soviet Union.

"We need to knock down this notion that nobody is on our side, that we're totally isolated," he said on Fox. "So many nations recognize the danger and they do it in the face of public opposition."

Indeed, British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces widespread revolt by members of his Labor Party if the United Nations rejects the resolution this week and he continues to stand with the United States behind invading Iraq, press reports said Sunday.

The Sunday Times of London and the Sunday Telegraph said five to 10 Labor members of Parliament were prepared to resign government jobs, and that as many as 200 of the party's 410 members of Parliament would vote against Blair if the U.N. resolution fails. Labor rebels were seeking a debate on the war and a vote before any military action begins, the newspaper said.

Powell said he understood the reluctance of other countries to back the threat of war, at least now.

"When it's a choice between peace and war, people will generally vote for peace. I want peace. But sometimes conflict is necessary," he said. "And if you do it right, if you do it well, if you demonstrate you are leaving something better in place after the conflict, then attitudes change. And people frankly respect what you have done."

As Powell and Rice worked a TV diplomacy end game on the eve of possible war, American bombers launched their sixth strike in eight days in southern Iraq, using precision-guided weapons Saturday night to target four Iraqi military communications sites

The sites were located near Qalat Sukkar, approximately 125 miles southeast of Baghdad, according to the U.S. military. The strikes were ordered after Iraqi forces fired anti-aircraft artillery earlier in the day at coalition planes. The communication sites enhanced Iraq's ability to command and control air defenses that threaten coalition aircraft.

Also Saturday night, the military dropped 720,000 informational leaflets in Iraq. The leaflets included messages encouraging Iraqi troops to surrender and directing all Iraqis to radio frequencies that broadcast messages about how their lives would be better without Saddam Hussein in power.


(Thomma reported from Washington. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Fawn Vrazo contributed from London, and Peter Smolowitz contributed from Doha, Qatar.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.