WASHINGTON – Signaling compromise, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday "there may be a way" to bridge remaining differences with France and Russia on a U.N. resolution designed to force Iraq to disarm.
"That's what we are working on, doing intensively today," Powell said as American diplomats at the United Nations privately floated marginal revisions of the tough resolution sought by the United States and Britain six difficult weeks.
"We're hard at work and I think we are getting closer," Powell said at a State Department news conference. "But our basic principles remain the same."
"Clear indictment of Saddam Hussein's past behavior and current behavior has to be in the resolution," he said, and "there has to be a very tough inspection regime."
Insisting on another key U.S. demand, Powell also said "there have to be consequences. Otherwise, Iraq will try to deceive and distract and they may try anyway, even in the face of consequences."
A White House official said the Bush administration was using its threat to act alone against Iraq as a strategy to compel Russia and France to back the joint U.S.-British resolution.
While they do not like the resolution, the administration is hoping they will support it rather than be left behind, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Powell said "we're getting close to a point where we'll have to see whether or not we can bridge these remaining differences in the very near future."
"I don't want to give you days or a week, but it certainly isn't much longer than that," he said,
If a decision on the resolution is not reached for a week it would mean President Bush would be spared making a potentially explosive decision on whether to go to war until after the Congressional elections next Tuesday.
Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld joined Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Foreign Minister Robert Hill at the news conference after an annual conference on security issues.
Australia is pledged to support the United States and Britain against Iraq.
Hill said he was hopeful Iraq could be forced to abandon its nuclear, chemical and biological programs "without the use of armed force."
"But our bottom line is that we do what to see an end to this program. It's gone on for too long," Hill said.
"The threat must be removed," he said.
Powell, for his part, said if the United States was unable to get a consensus to support the resolution it will have to decide "in the very near future" whether the council should also consider competing resolutions.
France and Russia are poised to introduce resolutions that would call for renewed international weapons inspections after a four-year lapse but not threaten Iraq with force. That might be considered later if the inspectors are foiled.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also said "time is running out" for the United Nations to decide on a resolution.
Two administration officials told The Associated Press the United States would not bend on the core issues in the proposed resolution. But they said there could be changes at the margins to satisfy such Security Council holdouts as France and Russia.
Specifically, one official said on condition of anonymity, the United States was prepared to give Iraq more than the 30 days the resolution would permit for the Iraq to list all its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Also, taking a cue from chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, the administration might relent on seeking to have Iraqi scientists who worked on weapons programs leave the country and be questioned abroad. Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency were to meet with Bush on Wednesday morning to discuss implementation of the U.S. draft resolution, U.N. officials said.
The main sticking point, an official said, was declaring Iraq in "material breach" of U.N. inspection and disarmament resolutions. The United States considers the allegation essential, but U.S. diplomats are discussing possible ways to revise the phrasing while retaining the substance of the charge.
At the United Nations, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, said it isn't the words "material breach" or "serious consequences" but their meaning that's important.
"It's not the style, it's the substance," Lavrov told the AP. He said Russia doesn't want use of force to be automatic "and this is still our position."
Powell said the draft resolution gives Iraq 30 days to declare its weapons "and we still think that's enough time."
At the United Nations, though, diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said the United States was prepared to extend the deadline for chemical programs that are not related to weapons production.
Rumsfeld, meanwhile, said Iraq had dispersed its weapons throughout the country and it would take "a good deal of time" for international inspectors to find them even if Iraq cooperated.
At the White House, Bush assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a telephone conversation that he wanted to settle the dispute with Iraq in a peaceful way, Fleischer said.
In Baghdad, Iraq sharply denounced the U.S. draft resolution, calling it tantamount to a declaration of war.