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Bush to Meet With British, Spanish Leaders on Iraq - 2003-03-14


President Bush will travel to the Azores Sunday to meet with the leaders of Britain and Spain to discuss their joint proposal for a new U.N. resolution against Iraq.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says the meeting is "an effort to pursue every last bit of diplomacy" toward getting a U.N. resolution that disarms Iraq peacefully.

In his talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar, Mr. Fleischer says, the president will be looking for the best way to make it "unequivocally clear" to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that there will be "serious consequences," if he fails to disarm.

"The president has said all along that he will exhaust every option," said Mr. Fleischer. "He is traveling to meet with leaders who share his assessment of the threat to peace posed by Saddam Hussein's defiance. The leaders will discuss all final diplomatic options."

President Bush has had a busy week of telephone diplomacy, trying to find the nine Security Council votes the resolution needs to pass. France and Russia say they will veto the measure, because it could bring the standoff closer to war.

France, Russia, and China want U.N. weapons inspections to continue, with more regular reports to the Security Council.

With more than 250,000 U.S. and British forces already in the region, President Bush says he is ready to use force against Iraq, regardless of what the Security Council decides.

Mr. Fleischer emphasized the president is "going the last mile" for diplomacy, because it is important to U.S. allies.

"The president has said it repeatedly, that he does not need a second resolution, or an eighteenth resolution, based on legality and based on the fact that it is important to disarm Saddam Hussein," he said. "But because it is important to our friends and allies, it is important to President Bush."

French President Jacques Chirac says he is ready to work with Britain to explore ways of disarming Iraq, but a spokeswoman says Mr. Chirac continues to reject any talk of an ultimatum. Russia says compromise proposals put forward by Britain are not constructive, and do not prevent the use of force against Iraq.

President Bush last week said he would push for a U.N. vote, even if he knew the resolution would lose because, he said, it is important for Security Council members to show where they stand on the issue of confronting Iraq.

Administration officials now say there may not be a vote, if opposition to the U.S., British, and Spanish plan continues.

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