The United States will present a UN resolution next week declaring Iraq in "further material breach" of a November resolution and opening the way for military action, a senior official said yesterday.

The wording might be used as legal grounds for military action but could also meet opposition from veto-wielding UN Security Council members which want to give arms inspectors more time to search for suspected chemical and biological weapons.

"The tabling of the second resolution will take place next week," said the administration official, travelling with President George W. Bush on a visit to Atlanta.

Russia said earlier in the day it would be ready to look at a second resolution but would not rule out using its veto.

The United States and its ally Britain will require the support of at least seven more of the 15 Security Council members. They must also avoid a veto by any of the three other permanent council members - Russia, France or China.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference he expected to hear by the end of the day whether Ankara had accepted a final US offer of aid, in exchange for letting US troops use Turkish bases as staging posts for a possible war in Iraq.

US officials say the aid offer totals $6 billion in grants and $20 billion in loan guarantees. Turkey is seeking more than $30 billion.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, reacting to Powell's remarks, said bluntly: "A reply today is not being discussed," according to the state-run Anatolian news agency.

Turkey is driving a hard bargain with its key Nato ally in the face of popular opposition to a war with its southern neighbour, concern about the future of Kurdish rule in northern Iraq and worries about the economic fallout of a war.

Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan said earlier that Turkey would not open its bases to US troops unless Washington provided written guarantees both on aid and on Turkey's role in a war.

The dispute jeopardised US plans to launch a northern front in any invasion of Iraq, though US officials have said they would deploy troops in other parts of the region if no agreement could be reached soon with Ankara.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said UN arms inspectors in Iraq were coming under pressure to produce reports which would back the case for war, and urged them to remain objective in carrying out their task.

In a clear attack on US policy, but without naming the United States, Ivanov told a news conference the inspectors were "being subjected to very strong pressure in order to provoke their departure from Iraq, as occurred in 1998, or to present to the Security Council assessments which could be used as a pretext for the use of force against Iraq".

The inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in 1998 shortly before US and British aircraft attacked Iraq.

Ivanov did not rule out vetoing a new UN resolution which endorsed the use of force against Iraq, but said Moscow had no objections to examining a new resolution if it was aimed at helping the inspection process.

The chief UN weapons inspectors reported to the Security Council on February 14 that Iraqi officials had improved their cooperation with the inspectors, but that shortcomings remained.

Diplomats at the United Nations have said the Bush administration was unlikely to push for a vote on the new resolution until the first week of March, indicating any attack on Iraq would not begin until the second week of the month.

Iraqi opposition parties gathered in Kurdish-run northern Iraq, trying to forge a united front and win a share in government if and when President Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

One such group, the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said it already had troops in the Kurdish enclave and was awaiting Iranian permission for thousands more fighters to cross the border from Iran.

Turkish military officials and local authorities said up to 7,000 Turkish troops were in northern Iraq to prevent an incursion by Turkish Kurdish guerrillas massing near the border.

The Arab League said it would move its annual summit to Cairo from Bahrain and bring it forward to March 1, enabling it to focus on a looming war against member state Iraq.

In Kuala Lumpur, four Security Council members - whose votes could hold the key to UN backing for military action against Iraq - said they wanted a peaceful solution to the crisis and that arms inspectors should be given more time.

Officials of Angola, Guinea, Pakistan and Chile were speaking on the sidelines of a preparatory meeting for a Non-Aligned Movement summit next week.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us