Bush Willing to Delay U.N. Vote on Iraq
WASHINGTON — AP - 13 March: In a reversal, the White House said Thursday that President Bush is open to briefly delaying a vote on his U.N. war resolution until next week if the postponement would help gain support for the measure.
"It may conclude tomorrow. It may continue into next week," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
As the vote was delayed, White House officials scrambled to organize an overseas trip for Bush, two senior White House officials said. They declined to say whether the president had approved the trip or whether it was simply in the planning stages -- nor did they say where he might go.
Within hours, however, those officials and others said the planning had been stopped and Bush did not intend to leave town.
Bush called world leaders Thursday morning and met with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. Ireland has provided landing facilities for American military aircraft for 40 years, but Ahern said in January that Ireland would be in "a new position" if the United States took military action in Iraq without a specific mandate from the U.N. Security Council.
But Ahern strongly backed Bush on Thursday, saying, "For the United Nations to be respected, it must be united in purpose as well as in name."
Bush thanked Ireland for its support last fall as a Security Council member for a resolution demanding that Iraq disarm.
"We appreciate Ireland's support for seeing the just demands of the world are enforced," Bush said. He offered no comments on the state of negotiations at the United Nations.
Bush's chief spokesman has said for days that the vote would be held this week. A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president decided a few extra days of diplomacy might help British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is facing stiff domestic opposition to war while he tries to forge a compromise.
The U.S.-British backed resolution under consideration sets a Monday deadline for Iraq to disarm. Pushing back the deadline for a vote likely means that deadline would be delayed as well.
"The president is willing to go the extra mile for a diplomacy," Fleischer said. "There is a limit on how far he's willing to do."
He said Bush was still committed to staging a U.N. vote.
U.S. officials had said earlier that France is sending exactly the wrong message to Iraq's Saddam Hussein by threatening to veto a United Nations resolution that would order him to disarm immediately or face war.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that the stand of French President Jacques Chirac is making it less likely Iraq can be disarmed peacefully and the White House suggested for the first time that voting against the resolution in the U.N. Security Council could damage a country's relationship with the United States.
France, along with Russia, has threatened to veto the resolution should it receive the nine Security Council votes necessary for approval.
"Unfortunately, President Chirac has said that no matter what, they're going to veto the resolution," Boucher said. "I suppose that factor needs to be taken into account by all those who are proceeding here.
"But, frankly, saying that he'll veto the resolution no matter what sends precisely the wrong signal to Baghdad, precisely the wrong signal for those who want peaceful disarmament," Boucher said.
Prospects for passage of a new Security Council resolution backing the use of force were uncertain Thursday even as the United States heads for a showdown at the United Nations by the end of the week.
However, the U.S. diplomatic campaign appeared to be making headway with three African countries.
The administration probably would seek a vote by the council on Friday, according to U.S. officials, although one senior administration official said the White House was not ruling out pulling the resolution or postponing the vote.
Needing the support of at least nine of the 15 members of the Security Council, the administration was concentrating on fence-sitters who could determine the fate of the resolution.
A senior U.S. official, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said there are strong indications the three African members, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea, would vote with the United States.
Foreign Minister Francois Fall of Guinea, a special target of the U.S. diplomatic drive, has at times given conflicting signals on how his country would vote.
Under separate consideration was a declaration proposed by Britain that seeks to establish "benchmarks" for Saddam to show he was prepared to disclose and destroy his weapons of mass destruction.
Some270 , 000U.S. and British troops are in the region to face an Iraqi army that's fewer than400 , 000soldiers and widely reported to be demoralized, poorly trained and inadequately equipped.
U.S. soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert stepped up preparations Wednesday, breaking out their chemical weapons suits for the first time and scheduling a joint battle rehearsal.