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Bush lacks votes in U.N., diplomats say
WASHINGTON — Mounting criticism from key U.S. allies this week on Iraq isn't just talk. The Bush administration doesn't have enough votes now on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution to authorize an invasion of Iraq, diplomats say.

That weakness complicates U.S. strategy as polls here and abroad show low support for an invasion unless the United States can rally U.N. support and a broad coalition of allies. Though President Bush has said the United States would act with only a handful of allies to disarm Iraq if it had to, the White House would prefer allied help.

Council diplomats note that U.N. politics could change overnight. Opposition to an invasion of Iraq is very fluid and could turn to support if Iraq showed further signs of resisting U.N. weapons inspections or if Washington produced dramatic evidence that Baghdad has doomsday weapons.

But as chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, prepare to brief the council Monday on the results of their inspections, two of the council's five permanent members — France and Russia — oppose using force against Iraq and have threatened to veto a war resolution.

The administration also faces difficulty from China, another permanent member with veto power, which wants more time for inspections. Of the key "permanent five" Security Council members, all of which can veto a U.N. resolution, only the United States and Britain are solid "yes" votes now.

At least four of the council's 10 other members — Germany, Pakistan, Mexico and Syria — also present problems for Washington.

"Perhaps they should wait and see what the inspectors have to say on Monday," said Secretary of State Colin Powell, on PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, of opposition to war voiced by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Wednesday. "There are some nations in the world who would like to simply turn away from this problem, pretend it isn't there."

Even the support Washington has is tepid, foreign policy experts say, and is due mostly to a fear of the enormous pressure the United States can bring.

"Right now, the only reason people would support us is that they don't want to stand up against the United States, not that they think it's the right thing," says Brookings Institution analyst Ivo Daalder.

Counting votes on the council will assume a vital importance in coming weeks, when President Bush faces a crucial decision on whether to push for a resolution to use force against Iraq. Bush is expected to finalize U.S. plans in the days after Monday's briefing.

Most U.N. diplomats say they believe Bush means what he says — that Washington will take action against Saddam Hussein's regime without the council's backing if necessary. That could leave the administration with only a handful of allies. Countries that would help Washington in what Bush has called a "coalition of the willing" include Britain, Canada and Australia, plus Iraqi neighbors such as Qatar and Kuwait, where the United States is massing forces.

"This president has no intention of being paralyzed by anyone's qualms," a senior administration official said Wednesday. U.S. officials say the resolution the Security Council approved Nov. 8 to restart weapons inspections and threaten Iraq with "serious consequences" already gives Washington the authority to attack Iraq — and that some nations that oppose an invasion might change their mind if Bush calls for war.

But the administration has not ruled out seeking a war resolution, which could provide crucial worldwide support for war.

A Pew Research Center poll of 1,218 Americans taken Jan. 8-12 found 68% support the use of military force in Iraq, but support dwindles to 26% if allies won't join the United States in a war.

U.S. officials probably would press for a second U.N. resolution only if they knew they could get one. A defeat at the council would be a huge diplomatic embarrassment that could unravel any chance to build an international coalition against Baghdad.

The problem Washington faces in seeking a second resolution is that many council diplomats see little hard evidence that Iraq possesses banned weapons. But administration officials insist the more important point is that Iraq has not obeyed the council's resolution in November that ordered it to declare all its banned weapons and comply with new inspections. U.S. officials say Iraq has dragged its feet on producing key scientists and refused to say what it did with weapons it was said to have when inspectors left the country in 1998.

U.N. diplomats say evidence of Iraqi non-compliance is not enough to pass a resolution and that most Security Council members want inspections to continue. Nonetheless, council officials say most members would prefer to avoid opposing Washington.

"The U.S. pressures are absolutely gigantic on these countries," says James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, an independent group that monitors U.N. policymaking. "I think it's fair to say that an overwhelming majority of countries in the world, including those on the Security Council, don't want to see this war. But they get the calls from Washington, and they feel the heat, they feel the pressure, and it's awfully hard for them to stand up."

Contributing: Judy Keen

 
 
 
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