Setbacks for US war timetable

Antiwar rallies and wariness at UN are hurdles for Bush.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a French newspaper ran the now-famous headline, "We are all Americans."

Now, with growing resistance worldwide to the idea of a US-led war in Iraq, a new slogan - "We are all French" - is dotting antiwar protests, referring to the French government's out-front opposition to war.

The mounting global resistance - seen in large public demonstrations and in a UN Security Council that is tilting toward more time for weapons inspections - is setting back the Bush administration's diplomatic schedule for lining up support for a war.

But these and other events are also pressing the Bush administration to act quickly, so as not to be further thrown off its stance, some experts say.

"You don't want to lose momentum, or allow the forces working against you to gain any more ground, so while [the Bush administration] may be ready to string this out a bit longer, I don't see them giving much ground," says Richard Murphy, a former diplomat now at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

But some momentum has already been lost. American officials had hoped to see a British resolution at least implicitly authorizing the use of force in Iraq submitted to the Council by early this week. But over the weekend US officials said that while some draft wording was being considered, no final resolution yet exists.

Narrow window for new resolution

Clearly, after the drubbing the US position took in the Security Council Friday, administration policymakers are back debating what should be the next diplomatic steps. In weekend television appearances, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the administration is still "open" to the idea of another resolution "if our friends and allies feel it would be useful." But she repeated President Bush's words that the diplomatic phase of the conflict can only be a matter of "weeks, not months."

Administration's options include:

• Using a resolution to set a deadline for full Iraqi cooperation, mirroring what was done in the lead-up to the Gulf War. Such a resolution could include specific steps Iraq would have to take very quickly to stave off disarmament by force.

• Accepting, or trying to negotiate a shortening of, the French proposal for a March 14 update by weapons inspectors - and setting that as the final inspections report. Another possible date could be March 1, when the inspectors are already scheduled to report back to the Council.

• Develop a "clincher" case for a resolution, even as the still-incomplete military buildup in the Gulf region continues. That could come from the additional weapons information that Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday he would present to the Security Council.

In any case, the combination of mounting global protests, NATO's resolution over the weekend of a controversy over providing for Turkey's defense during a war, and apparent US dismissal of extended inspections "will probably encourage a quick response from" the US, Mr. Murphy says. He believes the US could submit a "tough" resolution draft as early as Tuesday. "I'd anticipate something strong that would include a little room for give," he says. "But not something that could be watered down beyond recognition."

The basis for a world-opinion-swaying case against the Iraqi regime could come soon, some experts believe, over the issue of Iraq's missile arsenal and the missile engines Iraq has amassed.

Iraqi missiles a 'trigger' for war?

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council Friday Iraq has imported 380 missile engines that violate UN regulations. And he described Iraq's Al-Samoud missiles as "proscribed" by the UN, though he did not say the missiles must be destroyed.

Still, the US could insist that Saddam Hussein's prized weapon be destroyed - thereby setting up a likely showdown with the Iraqi leader. Mr. Hussein is expected to seek to keep the missiles operative for a possible war.

But some experts see a risk for the administration in putting too much emphasis on specific issues like a particular weapons program. "You run the risk of people saying, 'You're going to go to war over some missiles that can go a few kilometers beyond the legal limits?' " says Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "You're setting up strawmen that avoid the basic argument the Bush administration keeps trying to come back to, that this is about a battery of Iraqi deceptions and abuses that go back to the Kuwait war."

The White House, she says, "is just as likely to see [the missile issue] as one more distraction. "They'll say, 'Forget this and that detail, it's time we got on with it."

But "getting on with it" still involves a number of high risks, experts agree.

The US wants a resolution that suggests it has international support for going to war, but a resolution that could win support at this stage might also put more limits on the use of force than the US could accept.

"The US could accept a resolution with three abstentions [from veto-wielding members France, Russia, and China] but it still must get nine votes [a majority] and that won't be easy," says Murphy.

A resolution is key, because British Prime Minister Tony Blair needs it domestically - where his pro-US stance garners less than 20 percent support. And without Mr. Blair's support, Bush risks going to war without any major-power support.

"We're going to see a lot of arm-twisting and knee-capping over the next few days, but when it's all over the US could end up with only a coalition of the coerced," says Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "That spells trouble for the point where a war starts to turn bad, or for the postwar period when you want a sympathetic world working with you."

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