UNITED NATIONS – The Bush administration has a packed schedule over the next 10 days as U.S. diplomats scurry to win the nine votes needed from the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution giving Saddam Hussein one last chance to comply with disarmament demands.
On Monday, Britain, Spain and the United States introduced a resolution saying the Iraqi dictator must disarm -- or else. But France, Germany and Russia offered a counter proposal laying out step-by-step how Iraq can be peacefully disarmed through more thorough inspections.
President Bush is timing his lobbying drive with the next report by U.N. weapons inspectors, which is due Saturday. Chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei aren't expected to answer questions until March 7.
The U.S. coalition wants a vote soon afterward.
Although the White House has repeatedly said previous U.N. resolutions give the United States and its allies all the power they need to wage war, the administration would prefer to have a general consensus from the international community if it takes military action.
"As I've said all along, it would be helpful and useful but I don't believe we need a second resolution -- Saddam Hussein has to disarm," Bush said Tuesday after a meeting with his National Economic Council. "We expect the Security Council to honor its word by insisting that Saddam disarm -- now's the time."
Before that, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there was still "a slim chance" that international pressure would force Iraq to disarm and avoid war.
"There remains an off-ramp," Fleischer said. "The off-ramp will be taken or not taken as a result of Saddam Hussein's actions."
The president and his key advisers, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, say more inspections are not the answer and that Security Council members need to stick to their guns in enforcing Resolution 1441.
That resolution, passed on Nov. 8, calls for the complete and immediate disarmament of Iraq.
"The main thing is to get everybody focused on bringing this to a conclusion," Rice said Monday.
Eleven of the 15 Security Council members have endorsed continued weapons inspections, but the United States has dispatched top negotiators to some of their capitals to push for the American-British-Spanish game plan.
The U.S. strategy is to focus on the 10 countries that are not permanent members of the Security Council to garner the votes of at least seven of them. Those seven - plus the United States and Britain - would add up to the minimum nine votes needed to pass the resolution.
Each council member has one vote. Decisions on major issues require nine votes, including the concurring votes of all five permanent members. This is the rule of "great Power unanimity," often referred to as the "veto" power.
As of Monday, those Security Council members in support of the U.S. resolution are the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Bulgaria.
Those against the U.S. resolution are France, China, Germany and Russia. Syria also has been a vocal critic of any war with Iraq.
Six nations -- Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan -- are reportedly on the fence, and all of them are likely to agree to financial inducement from the United States. If the U.S. coalition wins the backing of these six, that would give them 10 votes -- one more than needed for the resolution to pass.
U.S. officials will then go after Russia, China and France -- all veto-holding nations, in an effort to convince them not to block the resolution.
The White House courted Russian President Vladimir Putin's right-hand man, Alexander Voloshin, this week in an effort to win that country over.
But U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, speaking with reporters Tuesday after talks with Russian officials in Moscow, said he couldn't convince Russia to support the U.S.-backed resolution.
"I didn't detect any shift in their position," Bolton said. "But the nature of diplomacy is frequently that you have to give your message, and receive a message back and there is further consideration.
"Today is not the first and I am sure it is not the last of the diplomatic discussions."
Powell failed this week to convince China to support the U.S.-U.K.-Spain resolution instead of the Franco-German-Russian one.
Also on Tuesday, Bush met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxcoburggotski. Britain, Spain and Bulgaria are the only council nations known to be solidly behind the U.S. stance.
"We all share the same values -- both you people here, we in Europe and we Bulgarians," Saxcoburggotski said afterward. "No matter how serious this crisis is, I certainly don't think it's worth dividing" Europe from the United States."
After a round of talks with top Bush officials on Monday, German opposition leader Angela Merkel said she had learned "there is some time to try to find a common position" between the French-led anti-war bloc and the U.S. coalition.
Bush also talked by telephone Monday with President Ion Iliescu of Romania, who supports using force sooner rather than later.
But Bush has more busy days ahead on his lobbying schedule.
He will give a speech Wednesday night at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and will argue that removing Hussein from power would improve life in Iraq and help Middle East stability.
"You begin with your sponsors and then you move forward from there to build support beyond the sponsorship," Fleischer said in discussing U.S. strategy.
Bush has also been circling carefully around French President Jacques Chirac, who heads the anti-war bloc. Bush and Powell have avoided a public scrap with the French leader and affirmed the right of other nations to dissent from the U.S. view.
The United States, Great Britain and Spain say those countries advocating the inspections route need to get a tougher skin and take a hard line against Iraq that shows the world the international peacekeeping body is not irrelevant.
"If you have to agree that Iraq is not fully cooperating and complying with the obligations that it undertook in 1441 ... if you accept that, then you have to accept that they're not in full compliance," Rice said. "You have to accept that they failed to take their final opportunity."
"It's hard for me to understand how you can vote for 1441, witness what has gone on from December - or from November - until now, and argue the converse of this, that he has taken advantage of his final opportunity to comply," she added.
Bush said Tuesday that more inspections will just give Hussein - who he calls a "madman" -- more time to play his normal game of cat and mouse with the arms experts.
"I suspect we'll see him playing games - the world will say disarm and he will all of a sudden find a weapon he claimed he didn't have," Bush said. "I suspect he'll try to fool the world one more time - after all, he's done it for 12 years."
The council will hold a closed meeting on the two proposals on Thursday.
Most Security Council member states support continued inspections, even though Blix and ElBaradei say Iraq has not been complying with disarmament obligations.
On Tuesday, however, Blix conceded that Iraq has been submitting more documentation in recent days on its weapons and is showing more signs of cooperation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.