Leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain, the three cosponsors of the draft resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, are scheduled for a summit on Portugal's Azores island on Sunday.
The summit, proposed at a short notice when the three countries stand little chance of putting their draft through the UN Security Council, has drawn wide attention from the international community.
The summit is an emergency gathering pushed by Washington and London to strengthen the position of the cosponsors when they are facing an uphill battle to muster support and clear up differences that among them have surfaced.
As the deadline set by the draft resolution is drawing nearer, Washington and London are still far from getting enough votes they need. Diplomatic maneuvering over the Iraq issue has become even more intriguing and unpredictable, when proposals were filed one after another to set new deadline and date for voting and now people even began to doubt whether there will be a voting after all.
After Washington flatly rejected the proposal of the six undecided non-permanent council members to push for the extension of UN inspections by 45 days and Britain came up with its six-test proposal, a split seemed to have occurred among council members bent on disarming Iraq by force.
In a desperate effort to win UN backing for war against Iraq so as to appease the mounting opposition at home, Tony Blair's government made repeated concessions in the wording and deadline of its proposal despite Washington's strong reservation over Britain's strategy. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even asserted that the United States could wage the war alone without Britain much to the annoyance of the British.
Meanwhile, the other two members that sided with Washington to push for war have also appeared to distance themselves from the United States by turning to Britain. After consultations on Thursday, Bulgarian permanent representative to the UN, Stefan Tafrov, complained that only Bulgaria and Spain supported Britain's proposal while the United States did not offer explicit backing for the proposal. Spain also noted that Rumsfeld's remarks on Washington going its way alone without caring about British participation did no good to win support from the international community.
The past week saw continued failure of the United States and Britain to win more votes for their draft resolution. Instead, several undecided non-permanent council members cast their doubts on the draft at varying degrees.
Following French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's shuttle diplomacy in Africa, Guinea, a member of the African Union and West African Economic Community, became the first to declare that it would support neither the US and British, nor the French position, implying it would abstain in voting.
Then Pakistan followed the suit by saying that it would give priority to domestic concerns when it comes to voting. On Thursday, Chilean Foreign Minister Maria Soledad Alvear Valenzuela clearly indicated that her country would not support a resolution authorizing the use of force.
Facing the near-certain veto over its resolution, the United States was content with gaining "moral authorization," namely, trying to win nine votes rather than the adoption of its draft resolution. That objective, however, also seemed unattainable. Diplomats here believed that Washington, once is certain to get a simple majority of eight votes, would rush the draft to vote, otherwise, it would drop the resolution altogether.
The international community is greatly concerned about the outcome of the Azores summit. A showdown among the parties concerned seems very likely some time next week. If the three cosponsors fail to put their resolution to vote, the United States would probably withdraw from the current diplomatic duel, and in that case a war with Iraq would loom much more imminent.
(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2003)