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Bush sets deadline for diplomacy

Blair, Bush and Aznar say time is rapidly running out.
Blair, Bush and Aznar say time is rapidly running out.

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President Bush, speaking after a summit in the Azores, calls for international support for Iraq's immediate disarmament. (March 16)
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Saddam Hussein has engaged in 'perpetual negotiation' to divide the international community. (March 16)
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Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar says the international community has one last opportunity for diplomacy over Iraq (translation). (March 16)
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PRAIA DA VITORIA, Azores -- U.S. President George W. Bush says the Iraqi crisis will reach its "moment of truth" over the next 24 hours.

Bush told reporters that should no decision be made on a second U.N. resolution for Iraq in that time then the diplomatic window would be closed.

He was speaking at a news conference with the British and Spanish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, after an emergency summit aimed at deciding how they should move forward.

The U.S., UK and Spain are joint architects of a planned second U.N. Security Council resolution that could provide a trigger for war against Iraq.

But so far they have not been able to secure a Security Council majority to adopt the planned resolution.

Three permanent members, Russia, China and France which all have the power to veto any resolution, all want weapons inspectors to be given more time to disarm Iraq.

Bush said: "(Monday) is the moment of truth for the world... The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations."

When questioned he added that by the end of Monday the diplomatic window would have closed.

It is now possible that the U.S., UK and Spain may abandon plans to put the resolution before the security council, arguing that resolution 1441 gives legitimacy to war.

Blair said: "(1441) was Saddam's final opportunity and serious consequences would follow if he failed to disarm.

"We have reached the point of decision. After 12 years of failing to disarm now is the time when we have to decide."

Aznar added: "I invite our friends and allies to work together for the commitment of democracy, freedom and peace."

Bush, Blair and Aznar said that they would spend all the time available trying to persuade other nations on the Security Council to support the resolution but emphasized time was running out.

The three also said they had discussed -- at the emergency summit held in the Azores on Sunday -- a post-Saddam Iraq and told reporters that rebuilding would include humanitarian aid as well as rebuilding infrastructure.

Bush said an Iraq without Saddam could also see an end to sanctions imposed at the time of the 1991 Gulf War.

Under the proposed second resolution Iraq would have to meet a series of tests, or "benchmarks," by a specific deadline to demonstrate it is serious about disarmament, or face military action.

Only one other country on the Security Council, Bulgaria, has publicly supported the new resolution.

France, Russia and Germany have called for a ministerial-level meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said.

The three countries, all of which oppose the use of force until more time has been given to U.N. weapons inspectors, proposed that the meeting follow a scheduled meeting of the council at which Blix is to present a work program for addressing the main unresolved disarmament issues.

The ministerial meeting would be to "approve the work still needed to be carried out."

France's U.S. ambassador insisted Sunday that weapons inspections in Iraq were working, and that Washington has no clear authority for waging war now. ('There's been progress')

Australia's government will decide this week on whether to formally commit troops to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard said Monday.

Australia has 2,000 military personnel in the Middle East, as well as a squadron of fighter aircraft and naval vessels, preparing for possible action. (Cabinet decision)

War footing

In Iraq, Saddam has put his country on a war footing ahead of a possible invasion.

On Sunday he called U.S. and British allegations that his country has kept weapons of mass destruction "a great lie."

The comments came during a meeting with more than 30 top military officers that was broadcast on Iraqi television. (Saddam's vow)

Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Baghdad was preparing for war and had ordered the distribution of up to five months' worth of food rations for its population.

Saddam has placed commanders, responsible for defense and internal security, in control of four regions and took direct control of the country's air force and missiles.

The order from Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council divides the country into North, Middle Euphrates, Central and South regions.

The Central region, which includes Baghdad, was put under the command of Qusay Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein's sons.

On Sunday, Germany advised all its nationals still in Iraq to leave the country. (Full story)

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