UNITED NATIONS—France and Russia pledged Monday to kill a U.S.-backed resolution that would authorize war against Iraq, dramatizing the Bush administration's diplomatic plight and forcing a delay in a crucial vote on the measure.
Still, the White House pressed ahead, hoping to reach a compromise or at least attract enough U.N. votes to salvage a symbolic diplomatic victory. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in an urgent round of consultations with foreign leaders.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said his nation would vote against the resolution as worded or any measure that contained an ultimatum leading to war "no matter what the circumstances." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made similar comments.
A "no" vote by France, Russia or any other permanent member of the U.N. Security Council immediately defeats a resolution.
As positions hardened on many fronts, the United States charged that Iraq was planting explosives in some of its oil fields and hadn't disclosed that it has developed drone airplanes capable of delivering chemical or biological weapons. Iraq denied both charges.
"This and other information shows Iraq has not changed," Powell said.
At the United Nations, the original U.S.-backed resolution—which would require Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to fully disarm by March 17—appeared doomed throughout the day Monday.
Late Monday, U.S. and British diplomats emerged from a closed session of the Security Council and said they were willing to consider changes to the deadline and other elements of the proposal. One idea: adding a series of "benchmarks" to measure Iraqi progress in disarmament.
Though the Pentagon said it is ready to attack now, a delay would provide military planners more time to position forces in Turkey—if that nation finally agrees to allow deployment there—or alternatively to move troops to Kuwait.
But if the measure still fails to pass, President Bush plans to issue his own public ultimatum later this week, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Bush will give Saddam just a few days to fully disarm or confront an invasion by the 250,000 U.S. and British troops arrayed against him, they said.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who faces rising dissent in his nation, have said repeatedly that they are willing to invade Iraq without new authorization from the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan placed both on notice Monday that such an attack violated the U.N. charter.
"If the United States and others would go outside the council and take military action, it will not be in conformity with the charter," Annan said in the Netherlands. "The legitimacy and support of any such action will be seriously impaired."
The Security Council scheduled an open meeting Tuesday, which permits representatives of any member nation to air their views. A vote—originally expected Tuesday—not will not come before Wednesday, and a new ultimatum to Saddam from Bush could come shortly thereafter.
But to some extent, the war already has begun:
The U.S. military announced Monday that it had bombed five unmanned, underground military-communication sites late Sunday about 60 miles from Baghdad, the seventh attack in nine days as the United States and Britain eliminate Iraqi defenses.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said they dismantled six more of their al Samoud 2 missiles, bringing the number destroyed to 52. That's about half of Iraqi's arsenal of the banned missiles.
In addition, Iraqi officials urged the Security Council to reject what they called the Bush administration's "bloodthirsty whims" and defeat the proposed resolution.
With that defeat all but certain through much of the day, the Bush administration faced its most severe diplomatic crisis yet.
Russia and France are among the many countries that back extended weapons inspections and reject military action.
"The latest inspectors' report confirms that there is no need to change" the approach, said Chirac, referring to Friday's presentations by chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.
"When one of the five permanent members—the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France—votes no, even if there is a majority (in favor), the resolution is not adopted. That is called the right of veto," Chirac said.
At the same time, Chirac said he doubted that a formal veto would be necessary because he didn't think the resolution could muster the nine votes it needs to pass.
Under U.N. procedures, a "no" vote by a permanent member of the 15-nation Security Council isn't considered a veto if it is cast with a majority of negative votes. It's considered a veto if it overrides a positive vote by a majority of council members.
Russia's Ivanov was equally firm Monday.
"In the course of the latest session of the U.N. Security Council, we did not hear serious arguments for the use of force to solve the Iraqi problem," Ivanov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "We will vote against this resolution."
The double-barreled setbacks left Bush with three options: Abandon the resolution that would require Saddam to fully disarm by March 17; accept a new and weaker version of it; or press ahead and hope to attract a majority of the council's votes in an ultimately losing battle.
White House aides said the administration would display some "flexibility" and consider a compromise that would include revisions to the resolution.
"It is too soon to say what the final document that will be voted on will include," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
But he and other aides strongly suggested that Bush was pursuing the third course: to lobby for as many votes as possible and attempt to achieve a symbolic victory.
If they can attract at least nine votes, they can claim a solid majority, even if France and Russia veto the resolution.
In that regard, Bush placed urgent phone calls Monday to world leaders, speaking with leaders of China, Japan, South Africa, Oman and other nations.
Meanwhile, Powell and other administration officials raised the specter of Iraqi drone airplanes filled with chemicals or biological agents.
U.N. arms inspectors, in a revised report of unresolved issues, said they discovered an undeclared Iraqi drone able to travel beyond the 93-mile range permitted by U.N. mandates and capable of carrying chemical and biological weapons.
That information "should be of concern to everybody," Powell said after meeting with Foreign Minister Francois Fall of Guinea.
He and other U.S. officials met with representatives of other wavering members of the Security Council and said they hoped the diplomats would take the new information into account.
France also conducted face-to-face diplomacy, with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin visiting leaders of Angola, Guinea and Cameroon, all of which hold seats on the Security Council
Some analysts called the French position futile.
"Do they really think that because of a veto the American president will say, `OK, we stop?' We bring the troops home or we go into indefinite inspections for the next four months?" asked Jeffrey Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, a research center.
Gedmin said the French overplayed their hand. He called a veto "a great gain for French vanity and big blow for the relevance of the Security Council."
(Ibarguen reported from New York, Rubin from Berlin and Merzer from Washington. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Peter Smolowitz in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030310 UN STANCE, 20030310 UN VETOES