UNITED NATIONS – Signaling that the United States intends to bring the Iraq debate to a final showdown, U.S. officials said Monday a vote on a new U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq will likely come next week.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States expects a vote in on its resolution "quite soon" after top weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei update the deeply divided Security Council Friday on Iraq's cooperation in eliminating its nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile programs.
"Our view is that we don't need to debate this very simple and straightforward resolution," the U.S. envoy said after discussing the date for the inspectors' briefing with Guinea's U.N. ambassador, the council president for March. "We would expect a vote quite soon thereafter."
A U.S. official said "there is no current plan to vote" immediately after Friday's report. "All indications are that the vote would be next week," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some council diplomats didn't rule out an earlier snap vote, but the most talked about date was March 13, which currently has no Security Council meeting scheduled.
The sponsors of the resolution -- the United States, Britain and Spain -- are allowed to call for a vote at any time.
The resolution declares that Saddam Hussein has missed "the final opportunity" to disarm peacefully and indicates he must now face the consequences -- an assessment that France, Russia, China and Germany reject.
Those four council nations -- all but Germany with veto power -- contend that inspections should be strengthened. France, Russia and China called Monday for Iraq to comply fully with the demands of U.N. weapons inspectors to avoid war.
The United States still doesn't have the nine "yes" votes needed to adopt the resolution, according to supporters and opponents of the measure. And even if it gets the nine votes, France and Russia have not ruled out using their vetoes. China is considered unlikely to veto the measure though it could abstain.
But diplomats said the United States is refusing to compromise.
President Bush believes that previous U.N. resolutions already give the United States authority to attack Iraq. If the council rejects the U.S.-backed draft, Bush has said he is prepared to fight with a coalition of willing nations.
"We're not backing away from our desire to see the council make a decision on whether or not the Iraqis have taken advantage of their final opportunity," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The rival camps have been engaged in intensive lobbying, focused especially on the half dozen council nations who are considered swing votes -- Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan.
"Every single day we are in touch with every single Security Council member, either in capitals or in New York," the U.S. official said.
While the United States set out its time frame, the 10 elected council nations -- including all the undecided votes -- met late Monday with Canada's U.N. Ambassador Paul Heinbecker to discuss a compromise that would give Iraq until the end of March to complete a list of key remaining disarmament tasks identified by the inspectors.
Afterwards, Heinbecker said some countries want to "bring some unity back to the council -- and a result that sees Iraq disarm, or at least gives the inspections a bit more of an opportunity."
"None of them is comfortable, I think, with either a divided vote on the resolution proposed by the Americans, or no vote at all," he said.
Meanwhile, Iraq was moving ahead with the destruction of its Al Samoud 2 missiles, a move welcomed by Russia, France, and Mexico as evidence that inspections are working. Mexico's U.N. ambassador Adolfo Zinser called it "very good news."
"It shows that they [the Iraqis] can do something when they're asked, but their job is to do more than just obey the inspectors," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. "Their job is to yield up to the inspectors what they have."
Both Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov and France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere stressed that no U.N. resolution -- including Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face "serious consequences" -- speaks of a change of leadership in Baghdad, which Bush is now demanding along with Iraq's disarmament.
"It's not about regime change as far as we are concerned," Lavrov said. "When the council was negotiating Resolution 1441, the United States said no, no, no it's about disarmament, and 1441 was adopted unanimously on that very basis."