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U.S. unlikely to get Pakistan's backing in war against Iraq

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—In a diplomatic setback for the United States, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali signaled strongly Tuesday night that Pakistan, a member of the United Nations Security Council, won't back a war against Iraq.

The prime minister said it would be "very difficult for Pakistan to support a war against Iraq" and that "more time should be given for peace."

While he didn't explicitly say Pakistan will abstain from voting or will vote against a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq, the tone and context of his remarks left little doubt that Washington won't get Pakistan's support.

Last Friday, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations said Islamabad was against any deadline that could lead to an early war. By confirming that position Tuesday in a televised address to his Muslim nation, Jamali seemed to leave little chance for a change of mind.

Pakistanis appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to a war against Iraq, which many would regard as an attack on Islam. Hundreds of thousands have poured into the streets of Islamabad and Karachi in the past two weeks to protest the looming invasion, and more mass rallies are planned.

President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, remains the dominant authority in Pakistan despite the newly installed Parliament. But his spokesman, Gen. Rashid Qureshi, told Knight Ridder on Tuesday before Jamali's speech that the Security Council vote was the prime minister's call.

Musharraf, who was battered by a powerful political backlash at home when he supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, remains a close ally of the United States in the war on terrorism.

Pakistan's recent successes on that front, including the arrest by Pakistani agents March 1 of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, may shield it from recriminations from Washington for not supporting a war on Iraq.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have been calling leaders of the 15 nations on the Security Council, urging them to vote in favor of the resolution. Powell called Musharraf on Monday.

If the United States and its ally, Britain, can get at least nine votes in favor of the resolution they can claim a majority under U.N. rules and a symbolic victory, even if permanent members France and Russia kill the measure by vetoing it.


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