UNITED NATIONS – The United States, Britain and Spain announced Monday they will not seek a vote on a Security Council resolution that authorizes force against Iraq, blaming a threatened French veto for their decision.
The dramatic announcement, ahead of closed-door Security Council talks on the Iraq crisis, came as the United States advised the United Nations to withdraw its inspectors from Baghdad, countries closed their embassies and foreign journalists left Iraq.
Ending weeks of silence on the issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned military action against Iraq, saying earlier Monday that war would be a mistake that could imperil world security.
But British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock singled out France for threatening to veto the resolution, which would have given Iraq an ultimatum to disarm by Monday or face military action.
"We have had to conclude that council consensus will not be possible," Greenstock said, flanked by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.
Negroponte said he thought the vote would have "been close."
"We regret that in the face of an explicit threat to veto, the vote-counting became a secondary consideration," Negroponte said.
Moments later, French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said that in one-on-one consultations in the past hours "the majority of the council confirmed they do not want a use of force."
Shortly after the ambassadors spoke, the White House announced that President Bush would address the nation Monday night.
"The diplomatic window has closed as a result of the U.N.'s failure to enforce it's own resolutions for Saddam to disarm," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
He declined to say whether Saddam would be given a deadline. "I will not get into any discussions about when military hostilities may or may not begin," he said.
On Sunday, the president and his allies from Britain and Spain, meeting in the Azores, announced that they would give the U.N. one day to resolve the diplomatic dispute.
The United States, Britain and Spain introduced their resolution last month in hopes of winning U.N. support to disarm Iraq by force. The resolution would have authorized war anytime after Monday unless Iraq proved before then that it had disarmed.
But weeks of intense diplomacy and pressure from the Bush administration failed to convince a majority of the council's 15 members that the time for war had come.
In an effort to change members' positions, Britain offered some amendments but council members weren't swayed.
Earlier Monday in Moscow, a top diplomat said the council would not approve the U.S.-backed resolution. "This draft has no chances for passage," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told Interfax news agency. "No additional resolutions are necessary."
Previously, Putin deliberately seemed to be seeking to avoid opposing Washington even as the Russian Foreign Ministry battered home the message that Russia would join France in opposing any U.N. resolution that automatically authorized force.
"We are for solving the problem exclusively by peaceful means," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. He said Russia's position was clear, comprehensible and unwavering.
"Any other development would be a mistake -- fraught with the toughest consequences, leading to victims and destabilization of the international situation as a whole," Putin told Chechen spiritual leaders, according to Interfax.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said earlier Monday that France could not accept a second U.N. resolution that includes an ultimatum or resorts to automatic use of force to disarm Iraq. Speaking to Europe-1 radio, de Villepin reiterated France's threat to use its veto in the Security Council to block the resolution.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that British diplomats would work through the night to try to persuade France to reverse course. But clearly, the efforts didn't yield results.
France was undeterred from the start and scheduled Monday's round of consultations to discuss a joint declaration by Paris, Moscow and Berlin calling for foreign ministers from the 15 council nations to meet Tuesday to discuss a "realistic" timetable for Saddam Hussein to disarm.
The declaration, released Saturday, said there was no justification for a war on Iraq and that U.N. weapons inspections were working.
French President Jacques Chirac said Sunday he was willing to accept a one-month or two-month deadline for Iraq to disarm, provided the move was endorsed by the chief U.N. weapons inspectors. But U.S. officials dismissed the idea as a nonstarter and Germany opposed it, saying it wanted no ultimatum.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he would continue to fight for peaceful disarmament.
"I think it is always worth it -- even in the last minute -- to push for peace and to fight for a peaceful disarmament," Schroeder told German television ZDF late Sunday.
Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the French proposal, saying "it's difficult to take the French seriously."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.