GENEVA, NOV. 17 -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III met today with the foreign ministers of Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Zaire amid indications that these African members of the U.N. Security Council will support the U.S. bid for a resolution approving the use of military force against Iraq.
Following the three separate meetings, only Kalimba Wakatana Mushobekwa of Zaire said publicly that his government would vote for such a resolution. Tesfaye Dinka of Ethiopia and Simeon Ake of the Ivory Coast refused to comment on their countries' positions, but Baker characterized the meetings as "good, positive talks," and other U.S. officials said nothing had happened to dissuade him from continuing his efforts to ascertain whether the 15-nation council is ready to approve the use of force.
Baker, who will meet the foreign ministers of five other council members in Paris on Sunday, insisted that he was "not counting votes." U.S. officials have made clear in recent days, however, that he is doing exactly that.
The United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, and Baker's main purpose during this trip is to gauge whether the United States can muster enough votes to win approval of a resolution after the Thanksgiving holiday.
U.S. officials have stressed that U.N. approval of the use of force does not automatically mean that the United States and its allies would move militarily against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait.
Instead, the officials say, the aim would be to put Saddam on notice that the military option is real, has the backing of the international community and would be used if peaceful measures fail to persuade Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
For that reason, the Bush administration is seeking the largest possible majority for such a resolution, which it believes would have potentially greater impact on Saddam than the economic sanctions and other measures taken by the United Nations so far. In fact, if the administration brings a resolution to a vote, it hopes to have Security Council members represented at the session by their foreign ministers rather than U.N. ambassadors.
But a senior U.S. official, who spoke with reporters today on condition that he not be identified, reiterated that the administration has not yet decided whether the time is right for a resolution. "Obviously, we will not make the effort if it is not going to be successful," the official said. "We are not yet at the point of making a decision where we would table something in New York."
Of crucial importance is whether the four other permanent council members -- Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China -- will support the U.S. move or, at the least, abstain from vetoing the resolution. Britain and France are expected to back the United States, but U.S. officials acknowledge uncertainty over the Soviet and Chinese positions.