WASHINGTON – In a last-ditch effort to devise a plan to win international support for using force to disarm Saddam Hussein, President Bush will meet Sunday with the leaders of America's two closest allies on the Security Council — British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
In a meeting billed as a bid "to pursue every last bit of diplomacy," the three will convene in the Azores, a traditional mid-Atlantic refueling stop about 900 miles west of Portugal. The Portuguese islands are considered diplomatically neutral ground, and Lisbon has granted the U.S. permission to use its Lajes Field air base there in a war against Iraq.
The hastily arranged summit will include talk about strategies for salvaging the troubled war resolution at the U.N. Security Council. The three leaders will talk about the language of the resolution as more doubts arise as to whether a vote will even take place.
The leaders also are likely to discuss plans for Iraq in any scenario in which Saddam is deposed.
"Not acting to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction is neither politically nor morally acceptable," Aznar said in Spain on Friday as millions of Spanish workers staged anti-war protests. Blair, under fire for backing Bush on Iraq, welcomed both the summit and a new U.S. push for Middle East peace.
Russia on Friday issued another blow to U.S. efforts when it denounced British amendments to the resolution and refused U.S. demands to expel Iraqi envoys.
"The British proposals on Iraq are not constructive and do not solve the main problem — preventing the use of force against Baghdad," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedorov told Interfax news agency.
Russia, a permanent and veto-holding member of the Security Council, has said it will not support any fresh U.N. resolution paving the way for war.
Meanwhile, Security Council members are awaiting a report from Baghdad on what Iraq did with its stockpiles of anthrax. U.N. officials said the report — due Friday — likely will have to be translated from Arabic.
Iraq has claimed the anthrax was destroyed in 1991.
Also on Friday, Chile — supported by the five other undecided nations — presented yet another resolution to the Security Council, one that would propose giving Saddam three more weeks to comply with five disarmament demands.
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said that if Iraq fails to disarm by the given deadline, Saddam should be ready to assume the consequences, including a war.
"We believe there is still room for a peaceful solution," Lagos told a news conference, after his government said it won't support a resolution setting a March 17 deadline. He called that deadline "unrealistic and peremptory."
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that the White House would flat-out reject the Chilean offer.
"That's a non-starter," Fleischer told reporters.
Diplomats also continued political wrangling over the resolutions on Friday and said they expected the talks to last through the weekend.
"There are consultations going on with all members of the council, especially with the undecided six," Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, told reporters at the United Nations. "The way to do that is to find common ground … unity of the council is certainly something we all appreciate. The question is on what ground will we find that unity."
Both sides of the war debate — the opposition being led by France — are trying to sway the six undecided countries over to their side: Cameroon, Guinea, Angola, Chile, Pakistan and Mexico.
"The 'six' are just trying to be helpful," Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, said Thursday. "At this moment, there is no clear way out."
Akram said his country welcomes the America-British-Spanish talks if they'll "in any way contribute" to a consensus.
Syrian U.N. ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said his country believes Resolution 1441 should be "exhausted to give the inspectors enough time to achieve their job and their arms."
Fleischer, in announcing the weekend summit in the Azores, said Friday that, "this is the chance to discuss every last bit of diplomacy, to push diplomatic initiatives one last time. We are still pursuing the vote next week."
However, administration officials said there was little chance of changing opponents' minds during a meeting of like-minded leaders 2,300 miles from the U.N. headquarters.
If the leaders can somehow break the impasse, a compromise would almost certainly provide a brief extension of the second resolution's March 17 deadline, officials said.
U.S. and foreign diplomats said another alternative was more likely: Blair would ask Bush and Aznar to withdraw the resolution rather than face certain defeat.
Almost immediately, the White House would shift to a war footing, said aides who are preparing a major war address by Bush.
The speech, which could come as early as Monday, is expected to serve as a final ultimatum for Saddam to disarm or face war, White House officials said.
Asked if France or Russia might attend the summit, Fleischer said he wouldn't address what he called "a hypothetical that is not in the cards."
He had harsh words for France.
"It flat out rejects the logic of ultimatums, and since Resolution 1441 was an ultimatum, France appears to be walking away from that," Fleischer said. "France has declared itself ungettable," which is why the country's president, Jacques Chirac, hasn't been invited.
The diplomats won't discuss battlefield tactics and detailed military strategies in the Azores. Senior administration officials say Bush is prepared to drop his bid for a U.N. resolution and fight Iraq without U.N. consent but with allies like Britain and Spain.
Bush talked to the president of Denmark on Friday about supporting the United States on Iraq.
The White House, which had wanted to introduce a new resolution authorizing force in the Security Council on Friday, will continue "working hard to see if we can take this to a vote," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
But Powell suggested the diplomatic effort would not extend beyond the weekend.
Fleischer said Saddam still has time to get out of Baghdad and avoid war.
"It is still possible for Saddam Hussein to see the writing on the wall, and to get out of Iraq and therefore preserve peace," Fleischer said.
"To the degree that other nations erase the writing on the wall, it makes it less likely for Saddam Hussein to leave and that this be settled peacefully."
The United States may be waiting for Mexico and Chile to decide.
The two Latin American countries could ensure the nine votes required for council approval — provided there is no veto, which both France and Russia have said they will cast.
The White House may not give France the chance to use the veto by withdrawing the resolution, one senior administration official said.
The Security Council vote wasn't Bush's only problem.
He sent a letter to incoming Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Vice President Dick Cheney telephoned the leader in hopes of securing permission to invade Iraq through Turkey or to use Turkish airspace for an attack.
But senior administration officials told The New York Times that Turkey dismissed the latest appeals. One official said "the message was clear that by the time Turkey got its act together, it would be too late to do us any good."
Within hours, Navy ships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles were told to move out of the Mediterranean and into the Red Sea. There are already more than 225,000 U.S. troops in the region.
In Washington, Bush met for about 10 minutes with three people affected, physically or psychologically, when Saddam released nerve and mustard agents, killing thousands of Iraqi citizens 15 years ago.
Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.