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France Tries to Win Over African Countries to Vote Down UN Resolution - 2003-03-09

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was heading Sunday on a whirlwind trip to Angola, Cameroon and Guinea - three non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. All three are key undecided votes on a possible U.N. resolution giving Iraq a March 17 deadline to disarm, or face military action. France is leading the opposition to it.

The three African countries sitting on the Security Council - Angola, Cameroon and Guinea - have rarely been so solicited. U.S. diplomats have paid visits in recent weeks. President George W. Bush has called his African counterparts to lobby for a U.N. resolution the United States wants, paving the way for military force against Iraq.

Now, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is on a two-day trip to Africa, to try to persuade the three countries to oppose such a resolution.

Mr. de Villepin's trip comes at a crucial time. Security Council members may vote this week on a resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain. The resolution is expected to set a March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm.

Cameroon, Angola and Guinea are among swing Security Council votes. Guinea also chairs the Security Council this month.

It is still unclear whether the three African countries will ultimately side with the French or the American position. Guinea and Cameroon are former colonies of France and receive substantial foreign aid. Guinea's majority Muslim population also appears staunchly opposed to war. But at the same time, all three enjoy budding trade, aid or defense ties with the United States.

The AFP news agency on Sunday quoted Angola's deputy foreign minister, Jorge Chicote, as saying his country will not back the U.S.-sponsored resolution because its terms are not widely accepted.

Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac is lobbying for heads of state to attend the next Security Council meeting. The Elysee presidential palace told reporters Saturday that leaders should be present for a so-called life or death decision on Iraq.