UNITED NATIONS – A new, fervent plea by Secretary of State Colin Powell to use force to disarm Iraq failed Friday to draw support at the U.N. Security Council beyond a small core of allies.
With a vote due next week, and rejection likely, the Bush administration faced a decision on whether to attack Iraq with a limited "coalition of the willing."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., predicted in remarks in Findlay, Ohio, "We'll be in a situation of war within a couple of weeks."
But the foreign minister of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, said after seeing President Bush at the White House that the president still wishes "to reach a solution without the war."
By the administration's reckoning, the Security Council already endorsed force when it approved unanimously last fall a resolution threatening Iraq with "serious consequences" if it did not comply with disarmament demands.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, citing former President Clinton's use of force in the Balkans without U.N. backing, said in Washington there was legal precedent for going to war against Iraq without U.N. approval.
Still, Bush and Powell sought the backing of the new resolution submitted jointly with Britain and Spain. Bush spoke by phone with the president of wavering Security Council member Chile, President Ricardo Lagos. Chile indicated Friday it might abstain on the vote.
But only the two allies and Bulgaria's ambassador spoke in support of the United States. And an amendment designed to attract fence-sitters by giving Iraq 10 more days -- until March 17 -- to commit to total disarmament failed to convert the skeptics.
Headed into an intense final stage of diplomacy, a senior administration official told reporters that Bush had no private assurances that France, Russia or China would abstain from using their veto. Other administration officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the resolution's prospects were dim but Bush was determined to push for a vote to show the world he had exhausted every possible diplomatic options before waging war.
If the resolution fails, military force could begin before March 17, they said.
Evidently frustrated, Powell told reporters: "There are some people, in my judgment, who don't want to see the facts clearly."
France and other anti-war nations were not the only critics of the Bush administration's approach. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said: "I do not believe that going to war now is the best way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."
Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said, "Before going to war we must exhaust all alternatives, such as the continuation of inspections, diplomacy and the leverage provided by the threat of military action."
While paying due respect to the U.N. as an institution, Powell said, "It seems to me the U.N. is damaged when there are members who do not want to stand up to the requirements of that resolution and take the action that was clearly intended in the absence of Iraqi compliance."
Fleischer, meanwhile, said opponents of the new resolution may be asked one day by Iraqis: "Where were you when we needed you the most?"
Bush, Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to lobby allies by telephone up until next week's vote. Aides did not rule out travel for the three, and Bush was said to be telling fellow leaders it was important for Security Council resolutions to have muscle. "I need you to do that," said the senior official, quoting from Bush's typical pitch.
Powell, in an uphill struggle for U.N. support, told the council it "must not walk away" from supporting force to disarm Iraq, despite some progress achieved through the pressure of international inspections.
Powell's acknowledgment that Iraq had given some ground went beyond past statements in which he had said the inspections had only made headway in "process," not in substance.
Still, Powell said, President Saddam Hussein's intent "has not changed." Powell told the council that "Iraq is once again moving down the path to weapons of mass destruction."
His assertion that Iraq had not turned the corner to compliance with 12 years of U.N. disarmament resolutions was received in silence, though British Foreign Secretary Jack straw nodded affirmatively in support of his beleaguered ally.
Then the United States, Britain and Spain submitted an amendment that set March 17 as a deadline for Iraq to commit itself totally to disarmament.
Powell told reporters the council would vote next week. "Let's see where everyone is," he said at a news conference. "We can't go on and on."
Powell spoke a few minutes after U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they'd been told by Iraqi authorities that inspectors would have greater access to suspect sites.
But Powell said Iraq's limited cooperation was offered in a "grudging manner" and without an unqualified commitment to disarm completely.
"Now is the time for the council to tell Saddam that the clock has not been stopped by his stratagems and his machinations," the secretary said.