UNITED NATIONS – The United States and Great Britain will soon introduce a new Security Council resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm, probably with a concrete deadline.
Diplomats said the resolution will declare Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations to disarm, a requirement for any military action. The two allies will present the deadline separately and will demand a decision on the resolution in two or three weeks, said U.S. and British diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The diplomats said the deadline would put all parties on notice that war was looming unless Iraq demonstrates it is actively cooperating with inspections.
"It is time for the Security Council to consider a resolution that says Iraq is in material breach," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said the draft resolution will force the Security Council, which strongly supports continued inspections, to decide whether to authorize military action or to continue inspections if the Iraqi government begins to disarm.
He predicted that debate over this "crunch decision" would go beyond March 1, when chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to present his next written report to the council. That would put back the U.S. timetable for a possible war, ruling out February and its optimum weather conditions.
The United States and Britain believe "a decision one way or the other has got to be made within weeks, not months," Greenstock said.
Diplomats acknowledged that a U.S.-British resolution still lacks the necessary nine votes it needs to be adopted by the Security Council, and there is still no guarantee that France, Russia or China, which favor continued inspections, would refrain from vetoing a new resolution.
Several other council members, including Mexico and Chile, reiterated privately that they would abstain in a vote on the resolution unless the United States and Britain found a way to ease tensions with France, Russia and China.
U.S. and British officials said the final language in the resolution has not yet been decided on by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair but that both sides were close to agreement.
"A resolution within the next few working days is highly likely," Greenstock said.
Asked whether the council would need to impose a deadline for Iraqi compliance, Greenstock said: "Explicitly or implicitly, yes, I do expect that." A council diplomat familiar with the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expects the deadline to be implicit -- but clear.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush "intends to work with our friends and allies to offer a resolution either this week or next."
"And the president has made repeatedly clear that the preferable outcome is for the United Nations to act," he told a news conference Wednesday.
But the council is bitterly divided over Iraq's cooperation with the terms of Resolution 1441, passed on Nov. 27 which gave Baghdad a final opportunity to disarm or face "serious consequences."
The United States and Britain contend Iraq is not providing substantive cooperation. France, Russia, China, Germany and other council members counter that Baghdad is starting to cooperate more actively and therefore inspections should continue.
At the end of a two-day open Security Council meeting dominated by calls for a peaceful solution to the crisis, Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri pledged that his country "will continue to cooperate constructively."
"Iraq is determined to cooperate both in substance and in process in order to cut off at the knees any allegations that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Nearly 60 countries spoke out at the council with the vast majority urging that all avenues to peacefully disarm the country be pursued before resorting to war.
The United States and Britain received support from a small number of countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Albania, Macedonia and Nicaragua. None of them is a member of the Security Council.
Canada's U.N. Ambassador Paul Heinbecker called on the council to direct inspectors to list Iraq's key remaining disarmament tasks immediately, and decide on those which need urgent action. The council should then set an "early deadline" to assess Baghdad's compliance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.