Ambassadors to NATO deadlocked for a second day today over whether to send military equipment to Turkey in what has become a proxy battle over policy toward Iraq.
In Beijing, China formally expressed support for extending U.N. weapons inspectors' work in Iraq, putting it at odds with the stated U.S. position that "time is running out" and that armed force may be necessary.
Consultations at NATO headquarters in Brussels were to continue tonight, and another meeting of ambassadors from the 19 member countries was scheduled for Wednesday. But officials in Brussels were pessimistic about securing consensus on Turkey's request before Friday.
That is when the chiefs of the U.N. team seeking illegal weapons programs in Iraq are scheduled to make their second report to the Security Council. Both sides at NATO are hoping that conclusions on Iraq's attitude toward the inspections will strengthen their side in breaking the impasse in the alliance.
On Monday, Germany, France and Belgium vetoed a U.S.-backed proposal to give Turkey radar planes and other aid for defense against Iraq in the event of war, arguing that such action would be premature before U.N. inspectors have at least issued their second report. It would invite the conclusion that the alliance has accepted the inevitability of war, the dissenting countries said.
Officials of some other European governments said they were appalled at the three countries' refusal to offer aid to a fellow alliance member. "This is the most fundamental rule in NATO, on which we, too, base our security," Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold said in Oslo.
The fight in NATO mirrors one unfolding in the U.N. Security Council over whether to end or extend the inspections process.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin told French President Jacques Chirac by telephone today that China supports a proposal that France, Germany and Russia announced Monday to extend inspections, according to the official New China News Agency.
"The inspection in Iraq is effective and should be continued and strengthened," the agency quoted Jiang as saying. "Warfare is good for no one, and it is our responsibility to take various measures to avoid war."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on French television during a visit to Paris, said that war without U.N. authorization would be a "grave error" and that Russia might use its Security Council veto against "unreasonable use of force."
A senior German government official, briefing reporters today, said that 11 of the 15 Security Council members, including veto-wielding members China, Russia and France, support extending the inspections.
The German official, who requested anonymity, said that only Britain, Spain and Bulgaria supported the U.S. position that "the game is over," quoting President Bush. "There is a clear polarization in the Security Council," the official said.
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said no one should start counting votes yet. "Keep your powder dry," he said. "The president is going to continue to talk to leaders around the world, and he believes the call will be answered."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized the evolving Franco-German-Russian plan to continue the inspections rather than use force against the government of President Saddam Hussein.
"If Saddam bows to the U.N.'s demands and cooperates promptly, what is the need for greater numbers of inspectors?" he said in a speech to London's International Institute for Strategic Studies today. "But if he maintains his refusal to cooperate, how will higher numbers help?"