WASHINGTON – President Bush and his senior advisers are struggling to quiet a rising clamor from U.S. allies and other nations to postpone war with Iraq and give U.N. inspectors more time to look for illicit hidden weapons.
The outcome of the carefully orchestrated American diplomatic effort, salted with undiplomatic tough talk, is unlikely to be clear at least until the Security Council receives a report from the inspectors next week and convenes to decide whether to do anything about it.
The inspectors, themselves, consider the report on 60 days of searches to be an interim account of whether President Saddam Hussein is complying with 12 years of council disarmament resolutions.
The report is due Monday. The council is expected to meet Wednesday.
In between, Tuesday night, Bush makes his State of the Union speech, but aides say he is unlikely to announce a decision then on whether to go to war.
The inspectors are determined to keep looking for weeks, and maybe months, for chemical and biological weapons and programs for nuclear arms and long-range missiles. They have the support of at least France, Russia, Chile and Syria.
France and Russia, as permanent members of the council, have the authority to veto any resolution, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hinted on Monday that France might use its veto to stop a resolution authorizing an assault on Iraq.
Germany, which is on the council and will become its chairman next month, is even more at odds with the Bush administration, opposing force under any circumstances.
"I think the sense of the council is that the majority is against military action," Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Gennady Gatilov, told The Associated Press.
On Tuesday, Bush chided those who seek delay. "This business about more time; how much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming?" he said, speaking of Saddam.
"Surely our friends have learned lessons from the past," Bush said. "Surely we have learned how this man deceives and delays."
Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Tuesday accused Bush of pursuing war in Iraq while a more imminent threat exists in North Korea, violating rights of immigrants in the name of homeland security and failing to prepare for future terrorist attacks.
"I continue to be convinced that this is the wrong war at the wrong time," Kennedy said.
In the meantime, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the Navy to double the number of aircraft carrier battle groups positioned within striking distance of Iraq, defense officials said.
The additional naval air power is part of a broader buildup of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region. More than 60,000 troops already are there, to be joined over the next few weeks by about 120,000 more.
When the buildup is finished, before the end of February, the United States would be able to attack Iraq from several directions.
At the United Nations on Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke openly of war, saying only Iraq could prevent it by disarming.
Asked Tuesday whether the United States would attack without Security Council support, Powell said Iraq must be disarmed, "if not peacefully then by force. But one way or another Saddam Hussein must be disarmed."
On Tuesday, in a speech cleared by the White House, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said time was running out for any option except war.
"This regime has very little time left to undo the legacy of 12 years," Armitage said, referring to a series of U.N. resolutions since the 1991 Gulf War that demand Iraqi disarmament.
Though no proof has been made public, Armitage said the 16 chemical weapons discovered recently in Iraq were the tip of an iceberg that illustrates Saddam's duplicity.
"Finding these 16 warheads just raises a basic question: Where are the other 29,984? Because that's how many empty chemical warheads the U.N. Special Commission estimated he had, and he's never accounted for," Armitage said.
"Some people may say there is no smoking gun, but there's nothing but smoke," the State Department official said. "To put this fire out, Saddam is going to have to work."
White House officials said Armitage's argument previewed the case Bush will make against Saddam in his State of the Union address. They said Bush would not announce hostilities or impose a deadline Tuesday night, and they played down prospects of new evidence being revealed.
Besides Armitage's speech, the White House released a 29-page report titled "Apparatus of Lies" that purports to document Iraq's "brutal record of deceit." It accuses Saddam of enriching himself at the expense of his people, using the bodies of dead babies for staging funeral processions and exploiting Islam.
The report, posted on the White House Web site, said Iraq was not disclosing its weapons and was intimidating scientists who might help U.N. inspectors.