U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan today appealed to the United States and other Security Council members to exhaust all "possibilities of peaceful settlement" of the Iraq crisis before deciding to launch an invasion of Iraq.
Annan said Baghdad's destruction of 19 Al Samoud-2 missiles was a "positive development" that should be weighed by the 15-nation council before it decides to act. But he said he would not undertake a personal diplomatic mission to Iraq to head off a conflict.
"War is always a human catastrophe, and we should only consider it when all possibilities for peaceful settlement have been exhausted," Annan told reporters today. "So let's give the process time."
In Washington, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) echoed that sentiment, urging the Bush administration to hold off on military action.
"As long as inspectors are on the ground and making progress, we must give peace a chance, so that war with Iraq does not distract us from dealing as effectively as possible with the obvious and ongoing threat of terrorism by al Qaeda and the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons," Kennedy said at a leadership conference of the United Methodist Church.
Kennedy also criticized President Bush's suggestion in a speech last week that U.S. removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would help bring peace and democracy to the Middle East.
"He painted a simplistic picture of the brightest possible future -- with democracy flourishing in Iraq, peace emerging among all nations in the Middle East and the terrorists with no place of support there," he said. "We've all heard of rosy scenarios, but that was ridiculous."
The remarks came as the United States, Britain and Spain faced opposition to adoption of their resolution concluding that Iraq has squandered its "final opportunity" to disarm, which would trigger a U.S.-led war.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meeting with Britain Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in London, said Russia has not ruled out vetoing the resolution.
"If the situation so demands, Russia will, of course, use its right of veto -- as an extreme measure," Ivanov said in a BBC interview. "Russia would not support any decision that would directly or indirectly lead to a war with Iraq." He added that Russia would not abstain.
Senior Bush administration officials said Russian officials have assured them in private that they would not veto the resolution. A senior U.S. official expressed confidence that "we'll have the nine votes, and the measure will pass."
France, one of five veto-wielding council members, has been actively seeking to deny Washington the nine votes it requires for adoption of its resolution and has threatened to veto it. A senior council diplomat said France had assured his delegation that it was prepared to cast its veto if necessary.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who have been leading opposition to war, announced they would make their case Friday at a briefing by Hans Blix, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sought to assure a Russian radio audience today that force may be the only viable option to disarm Iraq. "We would prefer not to have a war," he said in an interview with ORT radio. "This man must be disarmed for the safety of the region and the safety of the world, and he will be disarmed."
The U.S.-backed resolution is assured of four votes -- the three co-sponsors, the United States, Britain and Spain, and Bulgaria.
France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria oppose the resolution on the grounds that U.N. inspections should be given more time to disarm Iraq peacefully.
The six remaining council members -- Mexico, Pakistan, Cameroon, Guinea, Angola and Chile -- said they will not decide until after they hear an update Friday by Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. All of those countries would prefer to let the inspections continue, but they are concerned that a negative vote or an abstention could damage their relations with the United States.
Staff writer Helen Dewar in Washington contributed to this report.