WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has completed a new round of negotiations with critics of its tough stand on Iraq and plans to give the U.N. Security Council a revised resolution this week.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday the administration hoped for council approval within two days after the resolution is submitted.
At a one-hour White House meeting, Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the planned revisions with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security assistant.
A senior administration official said the votes of Russia and France remained uncertain. He also said he did not know that anyone was doing a victory dance, yet.
The revisions go a long way toward taking into account the views of other countries, Boucher said. He added that the "bottom line" of the U.S.-British draft under discussion for two months had been retained.
France, Russia, China, Mexico and other members objected to threatening Iraq with war at least until after U.N. weapons inspectors have been dispatched to conduct new searches for hidden caches of chemical and biological arms in Iraq.
"We think there's general agreement that there needs to be a strong resolution," Boucher said. "We adhere to our core position that there must be a clear statement of Iraq's failure to comply with its obligations. There has to be a tough inspection regime, and there have to be serious consequences in the event of new Iraqi violations."
"Serious consequences" has been a stumbling block so far. France, Russia and some other members fear that the United States would consider the phrase an automatic trigger for military action if Iraq resisted inspections.
The proposed resolution would make clear that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's palaces would not be exempt from the inspection.
At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said preparations for war could begin soon. He told reporters he met recently with top personnel and military officials to plan for military manpower needs.
"I would expect that there would be guard and reserve call-ups in the immediate period ahead," Rumsfeld said. "It could be any time."
Meantime, President Bush spoke of war again while campaigning for Republican candidates in Tuesday's elections.
Evidently convinced that threatening Iraq was a winning issue, Bush said in St. Charles, Mo., speaking about the United Nations: "You have a choice to show the world whether you have the capacity to work together to disarm Saddam Hussein to keep the peace or whether you will be like one of your forerunners, an empty debating society."
Bush also said again that "for the sake of world peace, if the United Nations will not act, and if Saddam Hussein will not disarm, the United States will lead a coalition of nations to disarm him."
At the last of his four campaign rallies Monday — this one in Dallas — protesters hoisted a banner that read "No War in Iraq," and shouted at Bush as he spoke. GOP supporters tore the banner from their hands and shouted the demonstrators down with chants of "USA! USA!"
Boucher did not say how the revisions might be received at the Security Council. He said Powell had engaged in intensive telephone diplomacy over the weekend, conferring with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France twice and with Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda of Mexico.
Permanent council members China, France and Russia could kill a tough resolution with their veto powers. Mexico, not a permanent member, is aligned with the other three in objecting to threatening force.
In a sign skepticism had not been overcome, Mexican President Vicente Fox called Bush over the weekend and told him the Security Council should look first for diplomatic solutions to the disagreement with Iraq over weapons.
According to a statement by the Mexican government, Fox advocated a two-phase approach in which the council would consider force only after the conclusion of new weapons searches.
In developments Sunday, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia said the Arab kingdom would not allow its bases to be used to attack Iraq, and Turkey, which also hosts American warplanes, elected a government with an Islamic party at its core.
Rumsfeld brushed off Saud's statement. He said he had not read it and did not "find it notable in any way."
On Turkey, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would be surprised if Turkey, a NATO ally, were to scale back its close relationship with the United States.
In Baghdad, Saddam indicated he would not reject outright a new U.N. resolution proposed by the United States but said Iraq would await details and examine the requirements it imposes on Baghdad, Iraqi TV reported.
Saddam's remarks in Baghdad appeared to mark a shift in position by the Iraqi leader, who has maintained that he would accept weapons inspectors only on terms laid down in previous resolutions.
Meanwhile, three large Navy transport ships are on the way to the Persian Gulf, region loaded with equipment that could be used in any possible war with Iraq.
The USNS Bellatrix left San Diego last week loaded with trucks, Humvees and bridging equipment used by Marine combat engineers to clear the way for armored ground forces. Bridging units would be key to an invasion of Iraq because U.S. troops would have to cross the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, perhaps more than once. The Bellatrix, one of the Navy's fastest large cargo vessles, can reach the Persian Gulf in less than 20 days.
The USNS Bob Hope and the USNS Fisher left Charleston, S.C., in the past two weeks. They carried gear such as tanker trucks and bridge sections but not combat vehicles such as tanks, said Marge Holtz, a spokeswoman for the Military Sealift Command.