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Bush wins support from world leaders

Bush, Berlusconi
President Bush toasts with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi during a U.N. luncheon  

From Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott
CNN Washington bureau

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Most international leaders Thursday appeared satisfied by President Bush's intent to work through the United Nations to deal with Iraq, although few were sold on the U.S. push for regime change in Iraq.

Bush's speech drew a positive reaction from Russia and France, two permanent members of the Security Council with the power to veto any resolution and who have opposed a unilateral U.S. military response. (Speech in full)

It was a speech that CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said pressed "some key buttons for European doubters" to the United States going it alone against Saddam. (Full story)

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday "the status quo is unacceptable."

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"We cannot agree to violations of any Security Council resolutions," he said.

In an interview with CNN, Villepin said that while his government was "pleased" by the speech, he also made clear France is most concerned about stopping Iraq's program of weapons of mass destruction, not overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Our objective is the objective of the United Nations, and this objective is not a change of regime in Iraq," said Villepin.

Should the United Nations seek to oust the Iraqi president, then "how are we going to react to other countries" that the international community doesn't like, asked Villepin.

This week French President Jacques Chirac proposed a two-step process in which the United Nations would first pass a resolution to demand weapons inspectors return to Iraq for a brief period of time.

Under the French proposal, if inspectors are refused access, the United Nations would then reconvene "to decide whatever action should be taken."

The French have made no secret of the fact they do not believe military action against Iraq is warranted.

Russia supports resuming inspections

Russia supports resuming weapons inspections in Iraq, but also has opposed the use of military force. However, Moscow is increasingly frustrated with Iraq's intransigence on the issue, and observers say Russia would not defend Saddam in a standoff with the international community.

"We believe there should be joint decision on action," one Russian official told CNN. "All U.N. Security Council resolutions should be fulfilled -- inspectors should be back in Iraq to get some conclusions about weapons. On the other hand, if nothing is there, the sanctions should be lifted."

Bush, Blair
Britain's Tony Blair has been Bush's staunchest supporter over Iraq  

This official also said that while the Security Council would be "glad to hear the real proof of Iraqi violations" of U.N. resolutions, "nobody gave us that."

Key Security Council player China has yet to give a response as Bush's speech was made late in the night for Beijing.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will begin the first round of intense consultations with ministers from the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, France, China and Russia -- on a new U.N. resolution calling on Iraq to comply with a decade's worth of prior Security Council resolutions or face further action by the international community.

The administration is coordinating its strategy with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and U.S. officials said London will take the lead in the Security Council. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Thursday, "The intensive discussions begin now."

Although agreement on a final resolution appears weeks away, U.S. officials predict one of the key sticking points will be whether this new resolution should be backed up with force.

"What to do if Iraq doesn't respond to the demands of inspectors?" explained one senior State Department official.

The Bush administration will be pushing for a resolution that would give an inspections team "very robust, very unfettered" access to suspected weapons sites "or else," this official said.

Germany 'not fully convinced'

German Foreign Minister Joska Fischer said Bush's speech left a lot of "open questions" regarding how a military campaign against Iraq could further destabilize the Middle East and damage the international anti-terrorism coalition.

One German official said his country was "not fully convinced" by Bush's speech about the threats posed by Saddam and has "seen no new material the threat is that great, that big, that the risks outbalance" the need to act immediately with military force.

While German "solidarity with the United States on fighting terrorism is very strong," he said, it is necessary to separate the terrorism issue from Iraq.

"It's important to see them both in context," the official said. "Of course Saddam is a dictator and what he has done to his people is evident, and of course he should admit the inspectors."

The official added that the international community should continue to use sanctions against Iraq to enforce compliance of Security Council resolutions.

President Bush did enjoy support from most of the United States' European allies.

Straw called the speech "powerful and very effective."

He said Bush spelled out the threat Saddam poses to the "international community and to their own people," while also illustrating the "responsibilities on the international community to face up to the nature of those threats, to take necessary actions and resolutions to deal with them."

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "The fact that the U.S. has strongly engaged with the U.N. will affect the outlook of its partners" and will make it "much easier to find a common line between the U.S. and Europe."

A Danish official said Bush made the case "quite forcefully" that Iraq was in violation of its international commitments and that Saddam had to be dealt with right away.

"We think it was quite positive and a good presentation," the official said. "It was an important speech which had the right conclusion -- that the U.S. should work with the U.N. Security Council to bring about the necessary resolutions."

While some U.N. officials thought the detailed presentation by Bush on Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions was "unnecessary," some European leaders thought the technical details were impressive and convincing.

"I thought Bush made a strong statement of reasons why the world should be concerned and was particularly strong making it clear that the authority of the U.N. is on the line," said Christopher Patten, the European Union's Commissioner for External Affairs.

An aide to Patten said Bush "did a good job of convincing the international community why Iraq was a problem that needed to be dealt with right away."

But Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, dismissed the allegations Bush leveled in his speech. He said Washington has no evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

"Lacking any evidence, he chooses to deceive the world and his own people by the longest series of fabrications that has been ever told by a leader of a nation," Aldouri said. (Full Story)




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