U.S., France Lobbying Undecided Nations

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The United States and France were mired in competing lobbying campaigns Monday, trying to get U.N. Security Council votes for or against the latest Iraq draft resolution.

The vote on the American-British-Spanish proposal, which would authorize the use of force against Baghdad, could come as early as Tuesday.

Facing veto threats from France and Russia, President Bush made urgent phone calls to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Jiang Zemin Monday.

China is a permanent member of the Security Council and has veto power. Beijing, whose trade relationship with Washington is crucial to its economy, has declared its opposition to the resolution, but has refused to say whether it would veto it or simply abstain from the vote.

Japan is not currently on the Security Council, but is a major source of foreign aid — an important consideration for some of the poorer nations holding the six undecided votes. Tokyo came out in favor of the resolution Saturday.

The Bush administration suffered another potential blow when Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said his Muslim nation won't support war with Iraq, though he didn't say if it would vote against the resolution. Chile also suggested Monday it is not prepared to approve the resolution without changes.

Pakistan and Chile are considered key swing votes along with Mexico, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea. The six countries have been the focus of intense lobbying by the opposing camps led by France and the United States.

If Pakistan and Chile abstain or vote "no," the United States will almost certainly fail to get the nine "yes" votes needed for the 15-member council to adopt the resolution. That's because France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria are virtually certain to abstain or vote against it.

Bush telephoned world leaders Monday to try to salvage the resolution.

"I don't think we're going to have a vote tomorrow, but I don't know when," said Spain's U.N. Ambassador Inocencio Arias. "The vote will be the day we get nine or 10 votes, and I think we're getting close."

Arias' comments echoed those of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said the United States was within "striking distance" of the nine "yes" votes. But he conceded on Fox News Sunday that France appeared prepared to veto the resolution.

The council was scheduled to discuss the resolution late Monday, and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said he planned to announce at the meeting when the United States would call for a vote.

He told the council to be prepared to vote as early as Tuesday, but with the Bush administration still trying to round up votes and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Russia's U.N. ambassador out of town until mid-week, there was speculation the vote could slip to Wednesday or Thursday.

There were also rumors of a possible open council meeting on Iraq before the vote, which would give the resolution's sponsors more time to lobby for support.

Mexico and Chile, meanwhile, were pushing other Security Council members for a last-minute compromise on Iraqi disarmament, officials from the two countries said Monday.

And a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair hinted that the United Kingdon would consider a compromise U.N. resolution that extends an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein beyond the March 17 deadline already proposed.

But Powell said "we have no plans to change that date," referring to the March 17 deadline. A U.S. official said Washington might highlight additional questions or problems that chief U.N. weapons inspector has recently noted.

Neither Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov nor French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who oppose the rush to war and want Iraq peacefully disarmed, said explicitly that they would veto the resolution if necessary. But their forceful words strongly hinted that they would.

De Villepin met top Angolan officials Monday at the start of a quick trip to lobby three undecided African members of the council that will also take him to Cameroon and Guinea. Angola's Foreign Minister Joao Miranda would not say whether his country would support the resolution.

"It's not my job to say what the Angolan position is," de Villepin said in the capital, Luanda. "We won't let a resolution that could open the way to war pass in the Security Council." But some observers said that despite such words, Paris would be hesitant to block a resolution if it has broad backing.

After listening to the latest reports Friday from top U.N. weapons inspectors, Russia's Ivanov said Monday "we did not hear serious arguments for the use of force to solve the Iraqi problem."

Bush, meanwhile, spoke to Japan's Koizumi and China's Jiang and planned to talk to a series of other leaders, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

There were indications that Cameroon, a former French colony, would support the resolution. U.S. diplomats said they were concentrating on Angola, Guinea and Chile. The foreign minister of Guinea will visit administration officials this week in Washington.

U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on ABC's This Week that she or Powell might try to lobby leaders in person. "It may well be necessary to do some travel. We'll see."

Rice also suggested that the Bush administration might offer financial aid to key nations in exchange for support, saying "We're talking to people about their interests."

On Monday, a front-page editorial in the influential Iraqi newspaper Babil urged Russia, China and France to veto the U.S. war resolution and said the world would be watching "peace-loving nations clinging to international law" when the draft is debated.

"The logic of justice and law should rule the Security Council, not bloodthirsty whims for a group of adventurers in Washington," said the editorial in Babil, which is owned by Saddam Hussein's son Odai.

In Britain, Blair, who faces intense opposition at home for his strong support of the U.S. campaign against Saddam, lobbied for the resolution in a phone call to China's Jiang, who said every effort must be made to avoid war.

Beijing, whose trade relationship with Washington is crucial to its economy, has refused to say whether it would veto the U.S.-British proposal to set the March 17 deadline.

France has repeatedly said that the United States will not get nine "yes" votes, but de Villepin's last-minute Africa lobbying blitz suggested the French were concerned about the numbers.

French President Jacques Chirac talked late Sunday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged to try to block any resolution authorizing force against Iraq. Chirac got support Sunday from Schroeder for the leaders of Security Council nations to fly to New York for the vote -- despite Powell's dismissal of the idea last week as unnecessary.

Bush has said the United States is prepared to forcefully disarm Iraq without Security Council approval. But U.N. support would give the war international legitimacy and guarantee that members of the organization share in the costs of rebuilding Iraq.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.