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France battles U.S. to line up U.N. votes

Saturday, March 01, 2003

By Barry Renfrew, The Associated Press

LONDON -- The United States and Britain are locked in a ferocious diplomatic battle with France for the support of six nations who could hold the key to whether or not the U.N. Security Council backs a war on Iraq.

Promises of rich rewards and hints of bruising punishment are flying as diplomats seek the support of Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan over a second United Nations resolution that would authorize military action against Saddam Hussein.

The United States and Britain, which want U.N. backing for military action, must get nine of the council's 15 votes to get it passed. So far, they can depend only on Spain and Bulgaria and need five of the six swing votes, diplomats say. France, Russia and China oppose military action now, while Germany and Syria, the other members, say they won't authorize war.

France, which wants to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time and is leading opposition to early military action, is trying to ensure that the Americans and British don't get nine votes. France, Russia and China, as permanent council members, could veto the proposed resolution, but are reluctant to risk a diplomatic rupture with Washington.

With both sides expressing confidence, U.S., British and French leaders and diplomats have been flying around the world and working the phones in search of support. President Bush has made regular calls to try to line up backers.

The United States, with its power, wealth and influence in such bodies as the International Monetary Fund, can apply the greatest pressure, but Paris is also a major aid donor, especially in Africa, where it has substantial security and political ties.

In a sign yesterday of unexpected success for the United States, a senior Pakistani government source told The Associated Press that Pakistan was leaning toward the United States. Pakistan was thought, however, to be reluctant to back a war against another Muslim state.

Mexico and Angola, mindful of their close trade ties with the United States, are also leaning toward backing the U.S.-British position, diplomats say. Shattered by civil war, Angola relies on income from the sale of oil and desperately needs U.S. aid, while Mexico does not want to anger its powerful neighbor.

France is leaning on Cameroon and Guinea to vote no or abstain. Both nations are poor and don't want to offend Washington or Paris.

For Guinea, with assumes the Security Council presidency today, the dilemma is acute, since Washington is its main aid donor and Paris its second-largest donor. Washington now is offering military training, and Britain is offering $6.2 million in aid.

Guinean Foreign Minister Francois Fall yesterday said financial incentives would not sway his country's vote. But Fall made clear that increased financial aid would be welcome.

Chile, a key U.S. trading partner, is under intense pressure from Washington. U.S. diplomats are hinting at greater trade if Chile backs the United States. But public opinion in Chile, Mexico and Pakistan vehemently opposes war.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said yesterday that Moscow could use its veto to block military action. But most analysts don't think Russia wants to risk a break with the United States because of its need for U.S. economic and political backing.

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