The United States intensified efforts to win over Russian and French support for a toughly-worded U.N. resolution on Iraq but Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday he "was a long way from getting an agreement."
The state department dispatched Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman to Moscow and Paris Thursday to help sell the U.S. plan for a resolution that would lay out a tighter timetable for Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections and authorize force if President Saddam Hussein fails to do so.
In a sign of U.S.-British agreement on the direction of a resolution, Grossman will be accompanied by a British diplomat whom state department officials wouldn't identify.
"We are a long way from getting an agreement but we are working hard," Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington.
The United States had hoped to push through the resolution by Monday, Sept. 30, when chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to meet with Iraqi experts in Vienna to finalize plans for the inspectors' return.
But interagency wrangling in Washington and the continued opposition of some allies has delayed a draft from reaching the Security Council, diplomats said.
"We're conducting intensive negotiations with other members of the Security Council, including consultations on possible texts with the United Kingdom," Lynn Cassell, a state department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Cassell said discussions would continue "in the coming days," toward a resolution that would "formally recognize Iraq's repeated violations, identify steps that Iraq needs to take to rectify those violations and make clear what will happen if Iraq again fails to comply."
Powell stressed that any resolution "must determine what consequences" there will be for Iraq if it fails to disarm and comply.
But Russia, France and Arab countries don't want a resolution threatening force before inspectors can get back inside Iraq.
Iraq announced last week that inspectors could return unconditionally nearly four years after they were barred from carrying out their work in the country. The Iraqi move was a surprise response to President Bush's speech to the United Nations earlier this month in which he warned Iraq to follow through with resolutions or face the consequences.
French President Jacques Chirac has proposed a two-step process in which the resolution would call for unfettered access and cooperation with inspections and would be followed by a second one authorizing force should Iraq defy the Security Council.
Chirac discussed the proposal Thursday with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in Paris and reiterated France's opposition to a resolution that would threaten force upfront, Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said.
Zhu expressed support Thursday for the French proposal, Colonna said. Niether leader spoke to reporters after their 30-minute meeting.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a quick solution to the Iraqi crisis by political and diplomatic means, saying a new council resolutions were not needed.
The Security Council imposed a strict embargo on Iraq after it invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990 and fired Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf War that followed.
The sanctions cannot be lifted until weapons inspectors certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime, all sales to Iraq must be approved by the United Nations and paid for through an escrow account which controls the proceeds from Iraqi oil sales.
Ukraine's foreign minister on Thursday rejected U.S. accusations that his country sold a radar system to Baghdad and invited U.N. or American inspectors to investigate charges that it had violated the sanctions.
"The accusation is groundless," Anatoliy Zlenko told reporters before meeting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ole Peter Kolby, the Norwegian ambassador who heads the sanctions committee.