DIVINING HOW each member of the United Nations Security Council will come down when a vote is finally called on the new resolution on Iraq - assuming it happens - is not easy because each of them faces so many different political and financial calculations in deciding what to do.
Some countries face massive domestic pressure to vote one way, while their trade and financial needs push them in the other direction. "If you are not confused," one diplomat at the UN said, "you don't know anything about this story".
London and Washington want to know whether Russia is serious about using its veto to kill the new resolution on Iraq. But Moscow may not have made up its mind. While Igor Ivanov, the Foreign Minister, has said more than once that his government was ready to veto the text, President Vladimir Putin has been coy. Certainly, Russia would instinctively oppose anything authorising war. For the past 12 years, it has been the Security Council member most responsible for giving Iraq the benefit of the doubt on disarmament. It has a stake in maintaining good ties with Baghdad, not least because Iraq owes it billions of dollars. And Russia is alarmed at the notion of unrestrained American power.
At the same time, Russia is under no illusion about the damage that could be done to relations with Washington, a relationship that has otherwise blossomed since Mr Putin came to power. American officials have been privately and publicly warning Moscow about the negative consequences of a veto. An assertion by the US ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, that a veto would damage ties, published in the daily newspaper Izvestia on Wednesday, was widely quoted on Russian TV and radio.
Beijing is a permanent member of the Council and, by most standards, a leading world power. Yet on this subject as on most UN matters, it has kept a fairly low profile. In recent weeks, it issued statements offering support to the joint position of France, Germany and Russia in opposing war and bolstering inspections but stopped short of formally signing on to it.
The Chinese are traditionally uneasy about any action in the UN context that entails intrusion into the sovereignty of nations, in large part because of its claims on Tibet. But it is expected to abstain in an Iraq vote rather than risk any damage to ties with the US. The last time it used its veto was in 1999 over extending a peace-keeping mission for Macedonia, but only because Macedonia at the time had formal relations with Taiwan, which Beijing still considers part of Chinese territory.
GUINEA, ANGOLA, CAMEROON
The three African countries on the Council may be impoverished but now they have hit the diplomatic jackpot. Angola has not had so much attention since the Cold War when both superpowers were vying for its loyalty.
President George Bush telephoned the Angolan President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, this week. He is thought to have dangled financial rewards in return for Angolan support. All three countries have been visited in recent days by the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, and the British Foreign minister for Africa, Baroness Amos. …