President Bush's urgent phone campaign to world leaders, seeking their support for a tough deadline on Iraq, came up short Monday — forcing a delay of the Security Council's vote and opening the doors to a possible compromise to give Saddam Hussein more time.
The United States had hoped to present the resolution to the council on Tuesday, setting a March 17 deadline for Iraqi disarmament or war. But the vote was put on hold when it became evident that America and its allies had not yet won the nine votes they needed for a majority.
Even if they gain the votes, it's not enough. French President Jacques Chirac declared that his country would veto any resolution that opened the way to war. The Russians also said they would vote against the proposal as it was currently worded.
Reacting to staunch opposition, both the United States and Britain said they were willing to negotiate the deadline and other changes to the resolution.
During a closed-door council session late Monday, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock suggested a two-phase approach to the resolution, in which Saddam Hussein would have 10 days to make a "strategic decision," to disarm, council diplomats said.
The inspectors would then have a brief window to verify whether Iraq was carrying out a set of tests — or "benchmarks," as they are called — before the decision to wage war was made. The council was planning to hold an open debate Tuesday on the Iraq crisis.
Some of the uncommitted countries were talking about delaying the ultimatum by as much as a month, until April 17 — though it was clear that such a proposal stood no chance with the United States, as hundreds of thousands of American soldiers awaited their orders in the Persian Gulf.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said a vote on the resolution would not come Tuesday. He said consultations were ongoing and a vote could come anytime later in the week.
"The vote will be the day we get nine or 10 votes, and I think we're getting close," said Spanish Ambassador Inocencio Arias, whose country is co-sponsoring the resolution with the United States and Britain.
But on the surface, at least, Monday was not a good day for the coalition's efforts.
Pakistan's prime minister said for the first time publicly that his country, a key swing vote on the council, wouldn't support war with Iraq. Ruling party spokesman Azeem Chaudhry said Tuesday that this meant Pakistan would abstain from voting instead of voting 'no.'
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war on terrorism, but its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to a U.S. attack on Iraq and Islamic hardliners have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to anti-war protests.
Chile, another vote which Washington is after, also suggested it is not prepared to embrace the resolution without changes.
The resolution — which authorizes war anytime after March 17 unless Iraq proves before then that it has disarmed — requires nine "yes" votes. Approval also requires that France, Russia and China withhold their vetoes — either by abstaining or voting in favor.
The United States is assured the support of Britain, Spain and Bulgaria, with Cameroon and Mexico leaning heavily toward the U.S. position.
But with Germany, Syria and now Pakistan preparing abstentions or "no" votes, Washington is left trying to canvass the support of Chile, Angola and Guinea.
Meanwhile, in Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair battled a growing revolt within his own party. A third of the Labor Party lawmakers are already on record opposing Blair's pro-U.S. stance on Iraq, and on Monday cabinet minister Clare Short threatened to quit.
Noting the pressure at home and at the United Nations , Blair said he was open to a compromise.
"We are talking to all the other countries about how we ensure that we can make a proper judgment about whether Saddam is cooperating or not," he said.
One example, Blair said, would be whether Iraq was allowing inspectors to interview scientists outside the country.
Diplomats said the benchmarks could be presented in the form of a presidential statement — a diplomatic text that everyone in the council could sign on to whether they supported the resolution or not.
The council was briefly united in November when it passed Resolution 1441, creating new powers for weapons inspectors and warning Iraq to accept a final opportunity to disarm or face serious consequences.
On Monday, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix told the council that an Iraqi drone recently discovered during inspections didn't constitute a "smoking gun."
Blix said Iraq should have included the drone in its weapons declaration of December but there is no indication that the unmanned vehicle was illegal.
The United States and Britain say it is more proof of Iraq's failure to disarm. Their resolution would authorize a war unless Saddam can convince the council before March 17 that he has fully disarmed.
If the resolution is defeated, Bush and Blair have said they would be prepared to go to war anyway with a coalition of willing nations. But U.N. support would give the war international legitimacy and guarantee that members of the organization share the costs of rebuilding Iraq.
But the White House argued the opposite Monday, saying a lack of support would hurt U.N. credibility.
If the United Nations fails to act, Fleischer said in Washington, "that means the United Nations will not be the international body that disarms Saddam Hussein. Another international body will disarm Saddam Hussein. So this will remain an international action, it's just the United Nations will have chosen to put itself on the sidelines."
But France and Russia seemed undeterred, saying Monday they would oppose the U.S.-backed resolution.
"No matter what the circumstances, France will vote 'no,'" Chirac said in a televised interview in France Monday. "There is no cause for war to achieve the objective that we fixed — the disarmament of Iraq.
His foreign minister was meeting top Angolan officials Monday at the start of a quick trip to lobby the undecided African members of the council.
In Moscow, Russia's foreign minister said: "Russia will vote against this resolution."
Facing the veto threats, Bush made an urgent round of phone calls to eight world leaders trying to salvage the resolution. Among those who received calls was Chinese President Jiang Zemin who told Bush that weapons inspections should continue and the standoff should be settled peacefully, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Jiang was also was called by Blair.
Bush also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, Turkish governing party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.