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U.S. says it might accept changes to Iraq resolution

Security Council likely to take vote this week

French President Jacques Chirac, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov have said France and Russia will vote against a resolution requiring Iraq to disarm by March 17.
French President Jacques Chirac, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov have said France and Russia will vote against a resolution requiring Iraq to disarm by March 17.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With announcements Monday from Russia and France that they would veto a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that could express international support for a war against Iraq, the White House said it might accept further changes before presenting the resolution for a vote.

It may be willing to push back by a few days the March 17 deadline for Iraq to prove its disarmament, sources told CNN.

"It is too soon to say what the final document that will be voted on will include," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The bottom line remains the same -- it must lead to the immediate disarmament of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein."

The draft resolution, presented by the United States, Britain and Spain, is expected to face a vote this week. Diplomats said Monday that a vote Tuesday, as was originally expected, is "unlikely."

The resolution calls for Iraq to prove its disarmament or face the "serious consequences" threatened by Resolution 1441, which the council passed unanimously in November. The March 17 deadline was added last week in hopes that it would win support.

French President Jacques Chirac told a television interviewer Monday that he would vote against the resolution, but added that his country's veto might not be necessary because he doesn't think the proposal will win the required approval of at least nine of the 15 council members. (Full story)

A U.S. official said a veto from France would cause at least short-term damage to the two's relationship.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Monday that Moscow is ready to vote against the draft resolution. Full story)

Fishing for votes

Despite the veto threats, U.S. and British officials worked Monday to marshal the votes needed for passage -- and to persuade France, Russia, and China not to exercise their veto power.

The draft resolution can be blocked by a veto from any of the five permanent council members: the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China.

President Bush called Chinese President Jiang Zemin to ask for China's support Monday -- one of eight phone calls Bush made to world leaders.

As part of the effort to build support for potential military action, the United States is pointing to what it calls further evidence that Iraq is not disarming -- evidence U.S. officials complain was "buried" in the latest report by U.N. weapons inspectors.

One point is a recently discovered drone aircraft. Another is a videotape showing Iraq testing a cluster bomb that could disperse chemical weapons over a wide area. Iraq might no longer have such cluster bombs, but it has the ability to produce them, the report said.

In a closed-door session of the Security Council on Monday evening, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said the drone should have been mentioned in Iraq's weapons declaration but was not, according to a U.S. official.

"We continue to investigate with the Iraqis," Blix was quoted as saying.

John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, brought up the issue, seeking a full explanation about the drone the Blix did not mention during his oral presentation to the council Friday.

The drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, was described in an addendum that Blix attached to his 173-page report to the council. The report says the drone might be able to fly farther than 93 miles (150 kilometers), a violation of U.N. rules.

During his presentation to the Security Council on February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States had detected one of Iraq's newest unmanned aircraft in a test flight that flew 310 miles [about 500 kilometers] without stopping.

The U.N. inspectors' report also notes that in 1988 and 1990, Iraq was exploring the use of remotely piloted vehicles to disperse biological agents.

Iraq insists that it has no weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad has said it would provide more information to prove that its previous stocks of biological and chemical weapons have been destroyed.

Annan: Council faces 'grave choice'

So far only one nation -- Bulgaria -- has said it would support the proposed resolution. The United States has said it would be willing to launch a war, along with "a coalition of the willing," even without Security Council backing.

That threat poses Security Council members with a "grave choice," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

"If they fail to agree on a common position and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support to any such action will be seriously impaired," Annan said. "If, on the other hand, they can come together even at this late hour to address this threat in a united manner and they show compliance with the previous resolutions, then the council authority will be enhanced and the world will be a safer place."

Powell met with Guinean Foreign Minister Francois Fall in hopes of winning support and called leaders of Angola, Mexico, and Pakistan, other apparently undecided nations. Cameroon said Monday that the new information about the drone "encourages us to want to disarm Iraq."

French officials also continued a flurry of diplomatic meetings aimed at ensuring votes against the resolution.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said Monday that they have evidence that Iraqi forces have placed explosives at the Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq.

The move underscores U.S. concerns that Saddam plans to sabotage oil fields in the event of a U.S.-led invasion.

There has been concern that Kurdish opposition forces in the north would try to take control of the oil fields, something Baghdad is determined to prevent.

Meanwhile, Turkey -- Iraq's neighbor and a strategically important U.S. ally -- moved closer to having a new prime minister Monday.

Turkish political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory Sunday in a Turkish parliamentary race, boosting odds that the United States could gain permission to base troops at Turkish staging areas ahead of a possible invasion of Iraq. (Full story)

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