CANADA has played a distinguished role in international affairs for many years. Although a neighbour and close friend of the United States, it has always kept its independence and, in particular, maintained close links with the Third World. Thus it is encouraging to see that Jean Chretien, the Canadian prime minister, is now actively involved in seeking an alternative to the looming crisis in the UN Security Council. He has proposed to the ten non-permanent members of the Council that the role of the UN weapons inspectors should be extended for a final fixed period of about one month by which time Iraq would be required to meet a number of specific disarmament benchmarks. This is a good proposal. One of the difficulties with Resolution 1441 is that it does not set such measurable benchmarks but calls for disarmament in certain areas in general terms. The Canadian plan provides a useful compromise: the discipline on Iraq would be toughened, which should satisfy Washington, while the time-scale of inspections would be lengthened, although not indefinitely, which should appeal to Paris and Moscow. For some reason the Bush administration does not favour benchmarks and confirmed its opposition to them yesterday; it is increasingly apparent that it wants only one thing war against Iraq as soon as possible regardless of the United Nations. Only Britain is in a position to stop this disastrous act but, regrettably, Tony Blair is disinclined to do so.


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