US struggles to find allies as Baghdad stands firm

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The Independent Online
Diplomats were still working last night on a resolution to force Iraq to end its obstruction of weapons inspections. Mary Dejevsky in Washington says the US is combining fresh warnings to Saddam with attempts to forge a united front at the UN.

Speaking at the solemn national commemoration of Veterans' Day in Washington yesterday, President Bill Clinton warned Iraq not to persist in its defiance. UN weapons inspections, he said, had "discovered and destroyed more weapons than in the whole of the Gulf War". Iraq's interference with UN weapons inspections, he said ,was "unacceptable".

The inspectors, he said, emphasising every word, "are doing what they should be doing. They must go back to work".

Earlier, William Cohen, the Defense Secretary, said there would be no concessions. He had postponed his planned visit to China and the Far East in case "any sort of military action" was necessary.

The new warnings came after Iraqi officials turned away Americans participating in UN weapons inspection teams for ninth day. Speaking in the corridors of the UN yesterday, Tariq Aziz the Iraqi deputy prime minister gave no hint that Iraq will change its position. Having insisted the previous day that Iraq had complied with UN requirements, but also had grievances which needed to be addressed, yesterday he contested UN and US figures for the composition of UN teams.

Iraq maintains that Unscom - the UN commission set up to oversee the disarming of Iraq after the Gulf War - and the weapons inspections teams include a disproportionate number of Americans.

The arithmetical arguments appear trivial, but they display the depth of Iraq's irritation, the detail into which the dispute has descended, and the hair-splitting that could well become part of an eventual settlement if military force is averted.

While Washington was still holding the military option in reserve, it was giving priority yesterday to keeping members of the UN Security Council on its side. Any appearance of a united front crumbled three weeks ago, when the US made its first attempt to punish Iraq's recalcitrance over weapons inspections by augmenting sanctions with a travel ban on Iraqi officials. Although that motion passed, France, Russia and China abstained and the ban was never implemented. It is now part of the draft resolution being jointly formulated by the US and Britain, which is expected to be placed before the Security Council today.

In London, British officials predicted the joint US/British resolution would be passed unanimously, and with only slight modification.

France and Russia, however, were said to be unhappy with another aspect of the draft which threatened unspecified "serious consequences" if Iraq continued to reject UN inspections.

While an eventual solution might include shifting the composition of inspection teams to include more non-Americans, it was hard yesterday to see any more room for manoeuvre.

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