Hoping to prevent a war and save a divided Security Council, Chile circulated a compromise proposal on Iraq Friday -- but the United States quickly rejected it, casting further doubt on any U.N. backing for war.
The Chilean proposal would give Iraq up to 30 days to complete five disarmament tasks. The efforts would be verified by inspectors and then judged by the council.
But the proposal, a working draft that is being considered by five other uncommitted nations that are members of the Security Council, didn't include an ultimatum for war or any other mechanism that would trigger military action if Saddam Hussein failed to comply.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer noted that the administration had previously dismissed similar proposals. "If it was a nonstarter then, it's a nonstarter now," he said.
The Chilean plan was written in the form of a statement that wouldn't require a vote.
Meanwhile, the White House hastily arranged a Sunday summit with its top allies -- prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain -- to try to salvage its own resolution.
Fleischer described the talks, to be held in the Azores Islands, as "an effort to pursue every last bit of diplomacy."
Though administration officials have been considering withdrawing the resolution it put forward three weeks ago, Fleischer said Washington was still hoping to hold a vote at the U.N. Security Council next week.
On Friday, as council members headed into closed consultations, several said they hoped the weekend summit would provide a peaceful compromise.
"If it could in any way contribute to (getting) a consensus on the council, we would welcome it," said Pakistan's ambassador, Munir Akram. Pakistan is one of six countries undecided about the U.S.-backed effort to authorize force.
If the U.S. withdraws the resolution or puts it to a vote and fails -- which seems certain -- the United States would be heading into war and possibly a protracted occupation of Iraq without the backing of the United Nations and its member states.
Bush insists he is ready to do so, but U.N. cover is more important for Blair, who faces a possible revolt within his own Labor Party if he leads Britain to war.
Blair spoke by telephone on Friday with French President Jacques Chirac. France infuriated London on Thursday by rejecting British revisions to the resolution aimed at garnering wider council support.
Chirac "said he would not accept an ultimatum to Saddam," Blair's spokesman said -- indicating that the 10-minute conversation did little to ease the bitter confrontation between the two leaders.
The U.S-backed resolution would set a Monday deadline for Saddam to disarm or face war. Last week, President Bush insisted he would call a vote on the measure no matter how much support it had on the council.
A tense council session late Thursday made it evident that the United States didn't have more than six of the 15 council members on its side and that nothing had swayed France, and possibly Russia, from vetoing the resolution. Nine votes -- and no vetoes -- are needed to pass.
"This is not going to fly," Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said.
China's ambassador, Wang Yingfan, suggested it was time for the resolution to be taken off the table. "To me it's clear, they just don't have the votes," he said.
France, China, Russia, Germany and several other council members oppose the resolution because it would automatically authorize force if Saddam failed to disarm by Monday. Britain had sought to alleviate those fears by transferring the ultimatum to a side paper that wouldn't be voted on.
But France, which led a verbal assault against the resolution, saw the move as a ploy and vowed to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Friday that he is still convinced that the crisis can still be resolved by peaceful means, insisting that U.N. weapons inspections can produce real disarmament.
"We must have the courage to fight for peace as long as there is a scrap of hope that a war can be avoided," he said in a speech to parliament.
In its proposal, Chile proposed five tests for Iraq to complete within 30 days:
-- Allow at least 30 Iraqi scientists to be interviewed outside the country.
-- Disclose mustard gas shells or full documentation to confirm their destruction.
-- Disclose 10,000 liters of unaccounted for anthrax or documentation to prove it no longer exists.
-- Destroy the rest of the Al Samoud 2 missiles and their components.
-- Provide full document on remotely piloted vehicles, or drones.
In Washington, several top administration officials said a growing number of advisers believe the resolution is doomed and they want the president to cut his losses and withdraw it. Others still hold out hope for the measure.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte left the 4-hour council meeting Thursday saying that "time is running out." In light of Britain's efforts, he said Washington was prepared to "go the extra mile as far as seeing if we can reach some kind of basis for understanding within the council."