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Monday, March 17

Bush kicks war preparations into high gear, ends diplomacy at U.N.

By John Yaukey

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration shifted its preparations for war against Iraq into high gear Monday, ejecting from ongoing diplomatic efforts in the United Nations to disarm Saddam Hussein while warning Americans and other foreigners to leave Iraq.

"I can think of nothing that Saddam Hussein can do now diplomatically - that time is over," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan responded by ordering the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq to leave. They’re expected to pull out Tuesday.

The stage is now set for what could be imminent military action by a U.S.-led coalition that has deployed roughly 250,000 troops around Iraq. With strong international opposition to a war with Iraq and a jittery economy at home, President Bush is under pressure to get any potential conflict over with as soon as possible.

The administration blatantly signaled that it intends to act outside the United Nations by withdrawing a proposed resolution submitted to the Security Council that would have authorized the use of force against Iraq.

The resolution, which had been debated for weeks, was scrapped after France, one of the five permanent members of the council, stood firm in its promise to veto any resolution that sanctioned war.

"In the light of the threat of a veto, we decided under the circumstance not to put that resolution to a vote," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "One permanent member (France) was intent on frustrating the purposes of our resolution."

France leads a Security Council contingent including Germany, Russia and China that believes the weapons inspections in Iraq that started Nov. 27 are working and should be continued possibly for several more months.

Bush has maintained almost since the start of the inspections that Saddam will not voluntarily disarm, and that war might be the only option to ensure that he gives up his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Annan said the decision to close the door on diplomacy and move outside the Security Council would raise troubling questions about the international legality of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"If the action is to take place without the support of the council, its legitimacy will be questioned," Annan grimly warned.

Negroponte stressed that the United States was within its rights to use military action against Iraq under Security Council Resolution 1441. Passed Nov. 8, the resolution orders Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences," which Bush has maintained means war if necessary.

Bush, meanwhile, faced harsh words in Washington for what one leading Democrat called a failure of U.S. diplomacy.

"I'm saddened," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "I'm saddened that the president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we are forced to war."

Despite the U.S. decision to exit the Security Council process, France and its council allies continued to press for more diplomacy on a number of fronts.

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he hopes the Security Council will convene a meeting of the foreign ministers of its member nations in a final effort to reach agreement on continued weapons inspections.

"It is possible to disarm Iraq through peaceful means," he said. "The inspections are making progress."

Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, echoed those thoughts, arguing, "If you have only a 1 percent chance at achieving the peace, you should still give a 100 percent effort."

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin remained steadfast in his position that war in Iraq now would be highly destabilizing in the region.

"Our position has not changed," he said. "Any other position would be a mistake."

Anti-war council members also argued that the United States should delay any major decisions at least until after lead weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei deliver yet another progress report on their work later this week.

In their last report on March 7, Blix and El Baradei told the Security Council Iraq is improving its cooperation with inspectors and that disarmament could be done in months.

While some of the U.S. forces that would fight a war in Iraq are still en route to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said enough are deployed in the region to begin an invasion at a moment’s notice.

The strategic war plan called "rolling start" is designed to hit Iraq with intensive air strikes, special operations raids and assaults by ground forces while reinforcements continue to move in from carriers, troop ships and aircraft.

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(Contributing: GNS correspondent Jon Frandsen)