WASHINGTON – With other nations' opposition hardening, the Bush administration left open the possibility Tuesday that it would not seek a United Nations vote on its war-making resolution if the measure was clearly headed for defeat.
U.S. troop strength in the Persian Gulf neared 300,000, and President Bush and his advisers were looking beyond the diplomatic showdown in the U.N. to make plans for a public relations buildup to potential war with Iraq.
One option under serious consideration was Bush giving Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a final ultimatum, perhaps with a short-term deadline, in an address next week, two senior White House officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that a variety of options are on the table and all depend on the outcome of a U.N. Security Council debate on the U.S.-backed war resolution. In a new blow, Russia's top diplomat said Moscow may use its veto against the measure.
Even without a veto from Russia, China or France, the United States still doesn't have the nine votes needed to win approval of the resolution, according to both supporters and opponents. Many undecided council members are looking for a compromise.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with RTL television of Germany, said that early next week U.S. leaders would "make a judgment on whether it's time to put the resolution up to a vote." But he also said the United States was inclined to push for a vote "in the absence of compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein."
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The vote is desirable. It is not necessary."
Once the vote is resolved one way or another, Bush will intensify his case for war, officials said, barring unforeseen events such as Saddam suddenly disarming or going into exile.
In addition to a possible address, they have discussed a presidential news conference and a Cabinet meeting as ways for Bush to communicate his plans to the nation next week. He may stop short of a specific ultimatum, officials said, but would make it clear that war is imminent in other ways, such as warning journalists and humanitarian workers to get out of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Bush telephoned leaders of India and Egypt to discuss his plans. And officials said Powell had had two telephone conversations and a one-on-one meeting in recent days with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez in his search for Mexican support.
The Army's oldest armored division, "Old Ironsides," got its orders to head for the Persian Gulf, and Pentagon officials said U.S. land, sea and air forces were approaching 300,000 in the region.
Tommy R. Franks, the commander who would lead the war, met at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and was to consult with Bush on Wednesday.
Still to be resolved was the military question of whether Turkey would allow its territory to be used for U.S. ground forces to open a northern front against Iraq.
At the White House, Fleischer said Turkey would lose a proposed $15 billion aid package unless it went along.
"The particular package that we've been talking to them about was predicated on assistance and cooperation in any plan for the use of force against Iraq," Fleischer said.
Until Tuesday, the spokesman had suggested part of the package would be available to Turkey regardless of whether 62,000 American troops are allowed in the country. White House officials said they were turning up pressure on Turkey in hopes that the parliament would grant the U.S. request on a second vote.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Baghdad's destruction of missiles "a positive development," putting him at odds with Bush's assessment.
Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, renewing Moscow's opposition to quick military action, indicated Russia may use its veto against the U.S.-backed U.N. resolution.
Both developments further complicated Bush's efforts to win passage of the resolution, adding significance to talk of what the administration would do if U.N. opposition hardens.
"The president has made clear, that ... whether the United Nations votes or does not vote, that we will disarm Saddam Hussein with a coalition of the willing," Fleischer said. "We are proceeding with all the plans for the vote."
"Now, if you are asking me if all of a sudden support around the world crumbles and there is absolutely no one for it, I can't predict with metaphysical certitude every eventuality," Fleischer said.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte was asked whether the United States would withdraw the resolution if it didn't have the votes to pass it.
"We believe that support should be there and we're not facing that kind of situation; and I think we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it, but we don't think we should have to come to that point," he said.