Diplomatic flurry in Iraq to try to avert U.S. air strike

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Diplomatic attempts to solve the Iraq crisis picked up speed Thursday, while China and France registered strong new opposition to an American military strike. Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared that “we shall not allow” an American attack.
Diplomats from Russia, France, Turkey and the Arab League — as well as an envoy of PLO leader Yasser Arafat — pressed Iraq to compromise on U.N. demands to inspect “sensitive sites,” including President Saddam Hussein’s palaces, to head off a threatened U.S. strike.
Thus far, varying forms of compromise offers reportedly discussed have not provided a way out of the crisis. The United States and Britain, virtually alone among major powers in advocating for the use of force, insist on the longstanding U.N. demand of unfettered access to all sites.
Early Wednesday, the USS Independence accompanied by a submarine and four other American ships, sailed into the Persian Gulf. Another 2,000 Marines on Navy ships with infantry and combat aircraft aboard were heading toward the gulf to join 24,000 American forces.
Yeltsin, directing unusually critical remarks at Clinton for the second straight day, renewed warnings that U.S. bombing raids against Iraq could spark a world war.
“We must not allow a strike by force, an American strike. I told Clinton about it: No, we shall not allow that,” Yeltsin said in Moscow.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine made clear that France will not join in any U.S.-led strike on Iraq now, telling Europe radio that diplomatic means to pressure Baghdad remain. An airstrike, he said, “would not resolve the problems.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, speaking on state-run television, also said he told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that any military strike could make matters worse.
The Iraqi Parliament, meanwhile, held an emergency session Thursday but refrained from action, with lawmakers saying they will give diplomacy a chance to resolve the crisis.