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Angola resists pressure on Iraq

Angola is still suffering the effects of its 25-year civil war.

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LUANDA, Angola -- Angola says it will not be pressured into making a decision on whether to support a U.S.-backed proposal giving Iraq a deadline of March 17 to disarm.

The announcement came as French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin began a three-day tour of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea -- the three African members of the U.N. Security Council.

He will be trying to persuade them to reject the draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council which could provide the trigger for war against Iraq.

A resolution needs a minimum of nine votes from the Security Council's 15 members for adoption and there must be no veto by any of the five permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

If the resolution fails to win the backing of the Council, Washington has said it could lead a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq without U.N. approval.

De Villepin told reporters: "As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Angola, of course, has an important responsibility.

"I have come here to clarify France's position and continue the very close dialogue which has taken place over the past few months between our countries on this issue."

But Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Bernardo de Miranda said: "We are not giving into pressure.

"Angola's position is closer to neither the U.S. nor to France. It is Angola's position. Angola is for peace but the disarmament of Iraq is a primary question."

French President Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, will discuss the crisis in Iraq on two French television networks later Monday evening, the French network TF1 reported. There is speculation that he will be going to the United Nations to cast the vote on the new resolution.

Between a rock and a hard place

Angola, which is emerging from its own 25-year civil war, has maintained that it considers war a last option -- a stance more in line with France, Russia and China than with the United States and Britain.

And observers say peer pressure could play some part in its final decision.

Angola is currently head of the Southern African Development Community and next in line to head the African Union.

Both groups have made clear their anti-war stance and Angola could be marginalized on the continent if it chooses to support the U.S. line.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, joint chairman of the African Union, said: "We want a peaceful resolution. We would not want to see any kind of war in the Middle East because it would be disastrous for Africa."

But analysts say economics are far more likely to drive Angola's vote.

Angola, struggling to recover from nearly three decades of war, is caught between a rock and a hard place. It risks alienating at least one key trading partner whatever decision it takes.

The United States is Angola's biggest trading partner and the largest single aid donor.

American government assistance to Angola, mainly humanitarian, totaled $128 million last year.

U.S. oil companies like Exxon Mobil are keen to reduce their country's dependence on Middle East oilfields, which could mean big money for Angola, sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest oil producer after Nigeria.

But France's Total FinaElf is also a major player in the country and Angola would not want to jeopardize that relationship either.

Nor would it want to alienate old friend and arms supplier Russia, which is backing the anti-war stance on Iraq and which supported the Angolan government during its war against the UNITA rebels.

For the time being, Angola is keeping silent on its voting plans as diplomats play tug of war for its affections.

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