UNITED NATIONS – Security Council members expect the United States to circulate a revised resolution on Iraq early next week after Russia indicated the positions of the five veto-wielding members were getting closer.
But Moscow made clear that "considerable differences" remain on key issues and continued to oppose language that would allow the United States to attack Iraq on its own.
While diplomatic contacts continued Friday between key capitals, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix briefed the 10 elected Security Council members on his plans for inspections and talks he had with President Bush about the U.S. proposal.
Later, Blix met Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri. The Iraqi envoy said he requested the meeting to hear firsthand about Blix's talks with Bush and other senior U.S. officials.
"He told me the most important thing is the United States chose the path of the United Nations to resolve the problem," Al-Douri said.
But he expressed skepticism about Bush's real motive because the president is committed to ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"I still think the United Nations will be used as a tool for America to implement their political program against my country," he told The Associated Press. "I hope that what they said is the truth, that the United Nations is the best way ... (but) we cannot trust them."
After seven weeks of negotiations, and almost daily demands from Bush for the United Nations to act against Iraq or face becoming irrelevant, Washington now is slowing down its timetable.
U.S. officials say a vote is unlikely until late next week because of the need to revise the resolution and have the council discuss the updated draft — which will delay U.N. action until after Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections.
Still, Bush kept the pressure up Friday, saying the United Nations risked becoming nothing more than a "debating society" if it failed to get tough with Iraq.
"We know he's got ties with al-Qaida," Bush said of Saddam at a political rally in Portsmouth, N.H. "A nightmare scenario, of course, is that he becomes the arsenal for a terrorist network and they could attack America and they'd leave no fingerprints behind."
The United States is increasingly optimistic about support for a tough resolution in the 15-member council and has claimed it has nine "yes" votes, the minimum needed for adoption. One council diplomat dismissed the U.S. vote count as "wishful thinking."
Iraq's Al-Douri expressed hope the U.S. resolution would fail, either by a lack of "yes" votes or a veto by Russia, France or China — who, along with the United States and Britain, make up the five permanent council members with veto power.
But there was no indication yet that any of the three countries would use their veto.
The revised U.S.-British draft is expected to make minor changes to plans for new inspections. But it's unclear whether it will meet Russian, French and Chinese concerns about language which could authorize a U.S. attack.
U.S. officials said the new text would extend a deadline for Iraq to declare chemical programs unrelated to weapons from 30 days to 50 days.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, "In the last few days we have succeeded in bringing the approaches of the five permanent members ... closer. We have converged on a whole series of positions."
But his deputy, Yuri Fedotov, told the ITAR-Tass news agency "there are still considerable differences in a number of key issues."
The search for an Iraq resolution began Sept. 12 when President Bush challenged world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly to deal with Iraq's failure over the last 11 years to comply with resolutions or stand aside as the United States acted.
Four days later, Iraq invited U.N. weapons inspectors to return after nearly four years.
The proposed U.S. resolution would strengthen inspections, declare Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations to eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and threaten "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate with inspectors.
Russia, France and China contend the United States could use the resolution to launch an attack on Iraq without getting council authorization. They want the possibility of force to be considered in a second resolution only if Iraq fails to comply with U.N. inspectors.
Blix said earlier Friday that the Bush administration wants "to help us be a strong inspection regime."
During Blix's meeting with the elected council members, many expressed concern about an automatic trigger to use force.
Colombia's U.N. Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso said council members were waiting for the revised American draft before staking out new positions.