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Britain, France Compete for Votes Among African Security Council Members - 2003-03-10


The French foreign minister is visiting the African nations that currently have seats on the U.N. Security Council to lobby for their votes against a new resolution on Iraq. Britain's top official for Africa, meanwhile, also plans to visit the three countries, hoping to win support for the resolution.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said his country might use its security council veto to defeat any resolution paving they way for war in Iraq.

The French foreign minister spoke in Yaounde, after meeting with the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, on his whirlwind tour of Africa to rally support for France's anti-war stance. He has already visited Angola, and his final stop is Guinea.

All three nations - Angola, Guinea and Cameroon - are non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and considered key swing votes on the Iraq issue. None has publicly declared how it will vote.

A proposed U.N. resolution paving the way for war would need nine votes from the 15 members of the Security Council, provided it is not vetoed by any of the five permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

But in Yaounde, Mr. de Villepin said France will not allow a new resolution to pass that will authorize the immediate use of force in Iraq. He said France will reject such a resolution, if it is submitted in the next few days.

He was making his tour of Africa in the hopes of convincing one or more of the three nations to vote against a resolution, so France's veto will not be necessary.

Earlier, as Mr. de Villepin concluded his visit to Luanda, Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Bernardo de Miranda said Angola will not be pressured into making a decision. He said Angola will not make a commitment either way, until the matter actually comes to a vote in the Security Council. But he also told reporters "war is inevitable."

Meanwhile, Britain has also sent a top envoy to make a similar tour of the three African nations. The foreign office announced that British Secretary of State for Africa Valerie Amos is to visit Guinea, Cameroon and Angola, in an effort to convince them to vote in favor of the proposed U.S.-backed resolution.

Many diplomats believe the politics of aid and trade will influence how the swing countries vote in the Security Council.

France is the biggest bilateral aid donor to Guinea, while the United States is the largest single donor to Angola. The United States is also the largest source of investment in Angola's key oil sector, although the French company TotalFinaElf is also heavily involved there.

Angola has traditional ties with Russia and the former Soviet Union, which backed the government during the 25-year civil war, while the United States backed the UNITA rebels. But the politics of the Cold War have recently taken a back seat to oil politics in Angola, and the U.S. influence there has risen considerably.

Washington also has strong ties with Guinea, which is a former French colony, but has seen its relationship with France deteriorate in recent years. It is the only former French colony in West Africa that does not use the CFA Franc, the regional currency backed by the French treasury. But more than 90 percent of the population is Muslim, and would be likely to oppose the war.

Cameroon is another former French colony, but in contrast to Guinea, it has retained very strong ties with Paris. One-fifth of the population is English-speaking, with stronger ties to Britain. But Cameroon is seen as the most likely of the three to side with France, if the matter comes to a vote in the Security Council.

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