U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would not be surprised if France vetoes a U.N. Security Council resolution that paves the way for military action to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. His comments came at a time when Paris and Washington are making all-out efforts to win support for their conflicting stands on Iraq.
Secretary Powell said the United States is close to getting the votes needed to pass the resolution, but acknowledges the measure could be killed by France.
Technically, the United States needs nine votes on the 15-member council to approve the resolution. Mr. Powell said that goal is within reach. "I think we are in striking distance of nine or 10, but we will just have to wait and see what individual nations who will have to make up their minds actually vote for on the day of the vote," Mr. Powell said.
But all five permanent members of the council have veto power. And the secretary of state makes clear he is concerned about France. "I would not be surprised if they veto, because they have been pretty clear that they want to stop that resolution. I don't think they have hidden their hand on this one. They have been out front saying this is not the way to go," Mr. Powell explained.
He spoke at a time of intense diplomatic efforts. While top U.S. officials were making their case in a series of interviews on American television, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was heading off on a quick tour of three African countries that are seen as key "swing votes" on the council: Angola, Guinea and Cameroon.
The U.S.-backed draft resolution now before the council sets a March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm. Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Secretary Powell said there are no signs Saddam Hussein will comply. He made specific mention of the Iraqi leader's response to the latest call for cooperation from the United Nations: a demand for the end of sanctions.
"This is outrageous! And it seems to me every member of the Security Council should be offended this morning that Saddam Hussein once again shows his brazen attitude toward the international community," he said.
But France, Russia and China have all said they want more time for U.N. weapons inspectors, and less talk of war. Also urging the Bush administration to reconsider is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
In an opinion article written for the editorial section of Sunday's New York Times, Mr. Carter - a Nobel Peace Prize winner - said America's stature in the world will decline, if Washington launches a war in defiance of the United Nations.
Secretary Powell said he does not agree, and noted a number of countries have sided with the United States. He made specific mention of Spain, Britain, Italy, Portugal, Australia, and a number of new democracies in Eastern Europe.