The United States steadfastly refused to comment on a report it is waging a secret "dirty tricks" campaign against UN Security Council members to win votes for a resolution opening the way for war against Iraq.
Neither the White House nor the State Department would be drawn into making any statement on the report in London's Observer newspaper that said it had obtained a document detailing US surveillance of the home and office telephones and e-mails of UN delegates.
"The administration never comments on anything involving any people involved in intelligence," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The administration does not answer questions of that nature."
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher repeatedly declined to respond to questions about the report and stayed mum even when asked if he could deny it.
"It doesn't matter what the paper is or whether it's true or not, I wouldn't have any comment on that kind of allegation," he told reporters.
"I would not have any comment whatsoever on that kind of question or allegation because we never comment on intelligence matters, and I'm not going to do it now," Boucher said.
The paper said the disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency (NSA), the US body which intercepts communications around the world, and circulated to senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency.
The memo describes orders to staff at the agency to step up surveillance "particularly directed at ... UN Security Council members" to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq, according to the Observer.
The leaked memorandum, dated January 31, makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the UN headquarters in New York, it said.
Along with Spain and the United States, Britain has sponsored a new UN resolution declaring Iraq in non-compliance with earlier UN demands that it disarm, which would in effect authorize the use of force against the Baghdad regime.
The resolution needs nine votes to pass while avoiding a veto by any of the five permanent members, and Britain and the US are lobbying feverishly for support.
The votes of the so-called "middle six" delegations are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections in Iraq, led by France, China and Russia.
Chile's foreign minister Soledad Alvear ordered Chile's embassy in London to look into The Observer's claims after meeting with Chile's UN Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdes and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
Copyright 2003 AFP