WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday encouraged the U.N. Security Council to quickly come to a decision about confronting Iraq, or the United States and a coalition of allies would disarm Saddam Hussein themselves.
"Saddam Hussein has not disarmed," Bush said before a ceremony to swear in new Treasury Secretary John Snow. "Colin Powell made that case very clear, and now members of the Security Council can decide whether that resolution has any force, whether it means anything. This is a defining moment for the Security Council."
Bush added that "the Security Council will be weak" if it were to allow Saddam to "lie and deceive."
France's ambassador to the United States countered that 10 or 11 of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council want to extend inspections rather than use force.
"Let's have the inspectors do their job," Jean-David Levitte said at the United States Institute of Peace. "Saddam is in his box and the box is now closed with the inspections."
France has not ruled out the use of force as an ultimate option, though, and will not decide on a position until after Feb. 14, when U.N. weapons inspectors give their report to the Council, said Levitte. France can thwart any Council resolution with a veto.
Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation earlier this week proved that Saddam had not disarmed. The president dismissed suggestions, primarily from France, to conduct intensified inspections instead of resorting to military confrontation.
It would be helpful, Bush said, to have a new resolution out of the Security Council. But he left no doubt about his intention to take action without one.
"He's treated the demands of the world as a joke," Bush said of Saddam. "If he wanted to disarm he would have disarmed."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld echoed those sentiments, telling reporters while en route to Italy that he doesn't believe much time is needed to determine Iraq's willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors.
"One could make a very strong case that time is desirable if in fact Iraq were cooperating," he said. "But the idea that it takes a long time to determine if Iraq is cooperating obviously answers itself -- it doesn't take a long time to determine."
But France, which is holding out for extended U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq and clings to hope for a diplomatic settlement, resisted Bush's call for a new U.N. resolution to reinforce disarmament demands. "The time has not come" for a second resolution, the French representative to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said in New York.
And Chinese President Jiang Zemin told President Bush in a telephone conversation Friday that China is continuing to press for support for continued work by U.N. inspectors in Iraq, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Britain is likely to introduce a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to authorize force to disarm Iraq after top weapons inspectors return from Baghdad and report to the council on Feb. 14, British and U.S. diplomats said Thursday.
"The U.N. must not back down," Bush said Thursday, reading a prepared statement in the White House Roosevelt Room. "All the world can rise to this moment."
Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf War in 1991, said Friday he thought "it would be nice to have support from some of our allies who are holding back. But I don't think it's absolutely necessary in this case."
Asked on NBC's Today program whether he thought war was imminent, Schwarzkopf said, "The war could start tomorrow because we have an overwhelming buildup of air power."
The number of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region now stands at about 113,000 -- nearly half of them in Kuwait, the main launch point for any U.S.-led ground invasion. That number is expected to reach 150,000 by Feb. 15, a senior official said Wednesday.
The Iraqi representative to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri, said of Bush, "It sounds like he wants a resolution for war."
American and British diplomats began considering options Friday for a new U.N. resolution, including one that would give Saddam Hussein a brief period to relinquish power to avoid war, diplomats told The Associated Press.
One idea being floated would threaten war unless Saddam removed himself from power or was removed by Iraqis by a certain deadline, according to Security Council diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi arms expert submitted to a private interview with U.N. weapons inspectors, the first sign of cooperation in that area.
Bush renewed a series of accusations that Powell had lodged on Wednesday before the Security Council, including the assertion that Saddam has authorized his lieutenants to use chemical weapons.
"Saddam Hussein was given a final chance," Bush said, referring to the resolution approved unanimously in November by the Security Council that launched new U.N. inspections. "He is throwing that chance away."
Pointedly, Bush did not renew past appeals to Saddam to reveal the chemical and biological weapons and the nuclear and missile programs the United States contends Iraq is hiding.
The president said a resolution that did not reflect U.N. resolve would mean little. "The United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, is resolved to take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime," he said.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said France's position had not been changed by Powell's presentation at the United Nations.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged he might have trouble persuading many Britons to support a war against Iraq unless the conflict had U.N. approval.
But Blair also said that if Iraq refused to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, and a veto loomed to block a resolution authorizing force, Britain may have no choice but to participate in a U.S.-led attack.
White House aides said the next few days would be dedicated to turning up pressure on reluctant allies such as France and Germany as well as other U.N. members.
Bush was silent on a timetable.
Earlier Thursday, Powell told a Senate hearing that a key to winning Security Council support would be a two-day visit to Baghdad this weekend by chief weapon inspectors Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.