12 MARCH 2003

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US, Britain may extend Iraq deadline

Facing almost certain defeat, the United States and Britain yesterday signalled they would extend, for a short period, a deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm or face war.
France, meanwhile, said it was "open to dialogue" but would not budge on the fundamentals it has championed since the start of the crisis.
While open to extending the deadline for Iraq to prove it has disarmed, Washington and London discounted a 45-day delay sought by six swing nations on the Security Council.
A White House spokesman insisted yesterday that the resolution would be put to a vote this week but said a proposal being floated to push back the March 17 deadline by a month was "a non-starter."
"There is room for diplomacy here," he said. "Not much room and not much time."
Cameroon Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou said he and ambassadors from other swing countries - Mexico, Chile, Angola, Guinea and Pakistan - would suggest a deadline of 45 days. But US officials shrugged off the proposal.
"It's not going anywhere; there's only one resolution on the table," one US Official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said the 17 March deadline could be extended but not by much.
Britain is "prepared to look at timelines and tests together, but I'm pretty sure we're talking about action in March. Don't look beyond March," he told CNN yesterday.
Reacting to details of the latest British compromise, French diplomats said the resolution would still mean authorising war, which France is unwilling to do.
However, the French Foreign Ministry in Paris indicated it was open to new ideas.
"It's a new development and the future will tell us if it is a significant development," said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We've indicated we are open to dialogue."
He added that the "red line" set out by France cannot be crossed: "We want no ultimatum. We want no element of automatically. And we've said we want what the inspectors say taken into account."
During a closed-door council meeting late Monday, diplomats said Greenstock suggested a two-phase approach to the draft resolution, which is co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain. Under the proposal, Saddam would have 10 days to prove that Iraq has taken a "strategic decision" to disarm, which could be done with a series of tests or "benchmarks," council diplomats said.
If Iraq makes that decision, a second phase would begin with more time to verify Iraq's full disarmament, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There is a two-stage process," Greenstock said. "One is to be convinced that Iraq is co-operating, the other is to disarm Iraq completely."
Security Council ambassadors said Greenstock made clear the timeline would still be the end of March - meaning that the most time Iraq could hope to get would be about two weeks if the resolution passed this week.
The Bush administration had talked of a vote as early as yesterday, but with France and Russia threatening to veto the current draft resolution, and without the minimum nine "yes" votes, it held up action in the council.
Instead, council members agreed to hold another open meeting on the crisis on Tuesday and Wednesday at the request of the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents about 115 mainly developing countries.
The open meeting will give nations from all parts of the world a chance to voice their views on an issue that has polarised the Security Council. It will also give supporters and opponents of the US-backed resolution more time to lobby the half dozen undecided countries on the council.
Pakistani officials said for the first time publicly that their country wouldn't support war with Iraq and would abstain from voting. And Chile, another vote Washington is after, suggested it is not prepared to embrace the resolution without changes.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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