Originally created 02/24/03

U.S. and Britain making last push for peace



LONDON -- Britain and the United States will make a "last push for peace" as they try to secure a new United Nations resolution ordering Iraq to disarm, Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said.

Blair's 10 Downing Street office said the prime minister spoke by phone Sunday to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin's press office said the Russian leader had briefed Blair on Moscow's attempts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

Russia and fellow U.N. Security Council permanent members France and China are opposed to war and want to extend weapons inspections.

But the United States and Britain say time has run out for Saddam Hussein and they are preparing to present a new draft resolution that would give them U.N. backing for war in Iraq.

The United States must get a minimum of nine Security Council votes to pass the resolution and it must persuade Russia, France and China not to use their veto power.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Beijing Sunday for talks with Chinese officials about North Korea and Iraq.

A Downing Street spokesman said Saturday that the draft resolution would come to a vote by mid-March, giving Saddam three weeks to give up his alleged weapons programs or face military attack.

"The prime minister will be launching a final push for peace next week," he said on customary condition of anonymity. "The few weeks between the tabling and the vote represent the closing of the final opportunity" for Saddam to disarm, he added.

Iraq denies it has weapons of mass destruction.

Of the 15 Security council members, only Britain, Spain and Bulgaria have joined the United States in pressing for a new resolution that could trigger war.

Blair is to brief lawmakers on Iraq on Tuesday. The House of Commons and the House of Lords will hold separate debates on the crisis the day after.

The prime minister's unflinching support for Bush has met strong opposition at home. Hundreds of thousands marched against war in London on Feb. 15, and polls show most Britons oppose war without U.N. approval.

The government believes it can get that approval. International Development Secretary Clare Short, the most vocal dove in Blair's Cabinet, said Sunday she believed the United Nations would prove its relevance by standing up to Iraq.

"If we go through the U.N. then I will fully support them and indeed try to make sure that we make a contribution to looking after the people of Iraq," she told GMTV television. "I am increasingly hopeful we will get that."

Former Prime Minister John Major, who led Britain during the 1991 Gulf War, said the stakes were much higher this time because Saddam might use weapons of mass destruction against neighbors, like Saudi Arabia or Israel.

"It is a possibility that on this occasion he may use all his arsenal and he has many targets that he could use them on," Major told the British Broadcasting Corp. "I think it is quite likely that he will try to create Armageddon."