The United States pursued a military buildup in the Gulf region as the United Nations edged towards agreement on a resolution on disarming Iraq.
The aircraft carrier USS Constellation is to leave its home base of San Diego, California on Saturday at the head of a six ship carrier group, US Navy spokesman Ensign Mike Morley said, according to AFP.
The departure of the Constellation -- with its 75 planes and 5,500 sailors, marines and pilots -- on a six-month mission was brought forward from early 2003.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group is already in the Gulf and Morley said "there will a period where both of them are deployed simultaneously". Another US carrier group is in the Mediterranean.
The US Navy also said Friday that it is looking for commercial shipping to take ammunition and vehicles to the Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea amid a repositioning of US forces. The navy has awarded a stream of contracts to take armour, ammunition and other military equipment to the region ahead of any military intervention in Iraq.
US Defense Department officials said they expected the contracts to be completed in time for delivery of the equipment in late November or early December.
On the diplomatic front, Security Council members expect the United States to circulate a revised resolution on Iraq early next week, and Russia said Friday the positions of the five veto-wielding members are now significantly closer. But Moscow continued to oppose language that would allow the United States to attack Iraq on its own, and made clear that "considerable differences" remain on key issues.
On his part, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix briefed the 10 elected Security Council members on his plans for inspections and talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on Thursday about the U.S. proposal.
Later, Blix met Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri. The Iraqi envoy said he requested the meeting to hear first-hand about Blix's talks with Bush and other top U.S. officials. "He told me the most important thing is the United States chose the path of the United Nations to resolve the problem," Al-Douri said, but he expressed skepticism about Bush's real motive because the president is committed to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"I still think the United Nations will be used as a tool for America to implement their political program against my country," he told The Associated Press. "I hope that what they said is the truth, that the United Nations is the best way ... (but) we cannot trust them." (Albawaba.com)
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