Originally created 03/14/03

Britain angered by French rejection of compromise



UNITED NATIONS -- As the United States tried to force a U.N. vote this week, the fissure in Europe over Iraq deepened Thursday: France rejected a British-proposed compromise resolution and London angrily accused Paris of pushing the world closer to war.

Iraq, reveling in the turmoil at the U.N. Security Council, rejected Britain's plan, which lists six disarmament requirements Baghdad would have to meet or else face "serious consequences."

Washington is trying to push a resolution through the council authorizing war unless Baghdad meets a Monday deadline to disarm. With that measure facing defeat, Britain tried to rescue it by adding the compromise list - and holding out the possibility of pushing back the deadline.

After a tumultuous day of negotiations, the sharp divisions on the council remained. France flatly rejected the proposals, as did Germany. Russia and China were noncommittal.

"It's not about giving a few more days to Iraq before resorting to force but about resolutely advancing through peaceful disarmament," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said of the proposal in a statement.

The rejection infuriated the British.

"What I find extraordinary (is) that without even proper consideration the French government have decided that they will reject these proposals, adding to the statement that, quotes, whatever the circumstances, France will vote no," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

Britain is desperate to get U.N. approval for military action to avert a political uproar at home that threatens the career of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair could face a revolt from members of his own Labor Party if he joins the United States in a war without first winning a second U.N. resolution.

Blair believes a new resolution on Iraq is "now less likely than at any time" and that French obstinance brings the likelihood of war closer, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said after meeting with the prime minister.

Duncan Smith said Blair blamed the French, who the prime minister said "have become completely intransigent and have literally threatened to veto almost anything that is put forward to the U.N. Security Council."

Blair's spokesman said talks at the United Nations would continue though the weekend as Britain works "flat out" to win a second U.N. resolution.

That, however, would set back Washington's push to hold a council vote this week. U.S. officials at the United Nations and in Washington offered sometimes conflicting statements about how long they are willing to wait for U.N. action.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Wednesday that if council members rallied around the British proposals, Washington would be willing to accept "a very, very, very brief extension" of the Monday deadline for Iraq.

Otherwise, he said, the Monday ultimatum would stand before the council for a vote.

Britain put forward its compromise Wednesday as a "trial balloon," said British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock." The six requirements that the proposal lays down for Baghdad include the destruction of suspected mobile weapons labs and a television appearance by Saddam renouncing his efforts to develop biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Later Wednesday, Britain tried to sweeten the proposal by offering to abandon the Monday ultimatum.

It still met rejection. Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, dismissed the changes as "an attempt to beautify a rejected aggressive project."

Britain "is trying to polish this project, which has been rejected by the majority of Security Council members," he told reporters in Baghdad. "The United States, with its policy of aggression, wants international cover for this aggression."

In Berlin, a German official said the British proposal still "basically gives an authorization for war," and is unlikely to yield a compromise on the Security Council.

"I think one has realized in Britain, that the draft resolution with the basic approach that I mentioned ... probably will not lead to a success," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's national security adviser, Bernd Muetzelburg, said Thursday.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow was still considering the various proposals on Iraq. "Until we have a draft resolution on the table, it's premature to say how Russia will vote," Ivanov said.

U.S. officials insisted they were making progress in picking up votes on the council.

Based on public statements and private interviews with senior diplomats, The Associated Press has determined that the U.S.-backed resolution currently has the support of seven countries: Britain, the United States, Spain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Pakistan and Mexico.

Angola and Guinea were still uncommitted Wednesday. Chile, Germany and China are expected to abstain. Russia could also abstain or vote against the draft along with Syria and France.

The United States needs nine votes, and no veto, for the resolution to pass.

The Security Council scheduled another meeting for Thursday afternoon to discuss the British proposal.

Asked if the United States would consider pulling the resolution or delaying the vote - an option raised by Spain - a senior administration official would not rule it out.

It was unclear when a vote would be held, though the Americans still insisted it would come this week, possibly Friday.

"I wouldn't deny we are making progress, but I wouldn't lead you to believe we've got it in the bag," spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at the State Department.

Associated Press correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report from Washington.