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U.S. privately bargains for U.N. votes

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent   |   Feb. 26, 2003 at 7:12 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- American diplomats are criss-crossing the globe and offering numerous symbolic carrots to the smaller states serving on the U.N. Security Council in the run-up to a vote on a new resolution that would pave the way for the United States and its allies to use force to disarm Iraq.

While Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States is not in the business of buying votes on the Security Council, a senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday, "We want to be nice to people who are nice, and good to the people who are good to us."

To that end, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon George Staples is preparing to meet with President Paul Biya this week to discuss what one senior U.S. official called "a prestige visit" to Washington in the hopes of persuading the Francophone country -- as former French colonies are called -- to vote in favor of the British and U.S. draft resolution introduced Monday at the United Nations.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner spoke with Biya in Paris last week after visiting Guinea and Angola, the two other African countries which are currently non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Biya was in Paris for a Francophone African summit that endorsed French President Jacques Chirac's campaign to give the U.N. inspectors more time.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher Wednesday described the talks with Biya as "very, very useful, very helpful." He added, "We want to make sure that people understand our positions and that they are able to make the kind of judgment that is required of Security Council members."

State Department officials Wednesday characterized meetings last week with ailing Guinean President Lansana Conte as positive and said they would predict that he will instruct his diplomats in New York to favor a U.S. resolution.

"To start, he hates the French. That's a plus in our column. And he seemed to listen intently when we spoke to him," one senior U.S. official said.

In Angola, Kansteiner had an easier time convincing a government that exports more oil to the United States than Kuwait to take seriously the U.S. position on Iraq. While direct aid was not discussed, U.S. officials said Kansteiner raised the issue of American support for a World Bank aid program for the country in the context of the U.N. vote.

"If our government asks anything from America it will not be money, it will be a better political relationship," Evaristo Jose, spokesman of the Angolan Embassy in Washington, told United Press International on Wednesday.

"We are still selling more oil to America than Kuwait. But Kuwait has a special status that we do not have. Kuwait has military support, political support, diplomatic support and economic support. We want America to be engaged in the reconstruction of our country."

The United States and its allies hope to secure at least the nine votes needed on the U.N.'s Security Council (if none of its permanent members exercise a veto) to pass a resolution.

The draft imposes no deadline and contains no threat of armed intervention, but it refers to the earlier Security Council Resolution 1441 passed in November, and that resolution threatened "serious consequences" if Saddam Hussein failed to disarm. The phrase is regarded as a threat of war.

The fact that Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously, U.N. diplomats say, may make it harder for Security Council members to vote against its sequel.

The votes of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea matter a great deal. All three countries are officially on the fence and their support will be needed to pass a resolution quickly that would effectively authorize a war to topple the Iraqi leader.

Bush administration aides have been saying the United States may act without a U.N. resolution. Boucher Wednesday nearly dismissed out of hand a Canadian proposal to table a vote for war until the end of March. "Setting another deadline, setting another date farther into the future only delays, only procrastinates on a decision we should all be prepared to make and to face up to facts that we should all be able to see," he said.

American diplomacy in this respect is in high gear. For example, Christina Rocca, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, this week will travel to Pakistan, another rotating member of the Security Council, who has expressed support for giving inspectors more time. "There are a number of different things going on with the Pakistanis. It is important for both of us to be on each other's good side," one State Department official told UPI Wednesday.

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans is shortly expected to travel to Bulgaria, a Security Council member that has voiced support for a military effort to disarm Iraq. Perhaps because of this support, the country's Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha met Tuesday with President Bush.

In that meeting, the prime minister asked the president for a security guarantee in the event of war with Iraq. While the president did not agree on a specific policy, he told Gotha, "We stand by our allies," according to a source familiar with the minutes of the meeting.

The Bulgarians are also asking the United States to help use its influence in a post-Saddam Iraq to retrieve $1.7 billion in foreign debt Baghdad still owes Sofia and to favor Bulgarian engineering and construction firms for contracts to rebuild the country once the Baathist regime is toppled.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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