The Bush administration's plans for a new United Nations resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq ran into major difficulties yesterday, as France, Russia and Germany vowed to block any move toward war, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix delivered an upbeat assessment of what he called "real disarmament" progress by Baghdad.
As antiwar pressure continued to build, President Bush met with a Vatican envoy sent by Pope John Paul II to plead for peace. Thousands of students across the country walked out of high school and college classrooms to join protest rallies.
But the administration continued its plans to call an early halt to the U.N. inspections and proceed with a military attack. Bush met with Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. forces massed in the Persian Gulf region, to go over final war plans. Franks told reporters the invasion force is ready to move the moment Bush gives the order.
Defense officials disclosed that the number of U.S. and British air patrols over southern Iraq doubled over the past week, in part to give additional practice to the large numbers of pilots and planes now assembled. The Pentagon provided a news briefing on its "targeting policy" for Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld emphasized that targets had been chosen "to do everything humanly possible to save innocent lives."
In a starkly worded speech outlining the arguments he will make to a special U.N. Security Council session Friday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said it is beyond dispute that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has failed to take U.N. disarmament demands seriously. He said the Iraqi leader had only a "few days" to change his mind.
"We must confront the reality of Saddam Hussein's intransigence," Powell said in a hastily arranged address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We must confront that reality here and now."
Powell said "recent intelligence" shows that Iraq is still concealing biological and chemical weapons from inspectors, and is hiding equipment to continue building more of the type of missiles that Baghdad is destroying under U.N. orders. Powell provided no evidence, saying the information came from "sensitive sources."
But prospects for passage of the U.S. resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, appeared increasingly poor. In addition to yesterday's indications that France and Russia are prepared to use their veto against it, Chile, one of the six nonpermanent members Washington has been courting, said it would not vote for the resolution as written.
Powell spoke disdainfully of the joint statement of the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany, who said in Paris that they "will not allow a draft resolution to pass that authorizes the use of force."
"Some of my colleagues," Powell said, "three of whom I was watching on television earlier today, believe the problem is there, the threat is there, but the solution to it is just 'Oh, let the inspectors keep going.' . . . And there was very little comment from them, today or in earlier days, about the basic fact that you still don't have somebody who is complying."
Hussein has continued to provide small amounts of cooperation only when pressured, Powell said.
"The question is not how much more time should be allowed for inspections," he said. "The question is not how many more inspectors should be sent in. The question simply is: Has Saddam Hussein made a strategic decision, a political decision, that he will give up these horrible weapons of mass destruction and stop what he's been doing for all these many years?"
Administration officials have said they expect a Security Council vote on the resolution by the end of next week. Debate is expected to begin immediately after Blix's report to the chamber on Friday.
In what is shaping up to be a highly confrontational session, 12 of the 15 council-member countries have said they will send their foreign ministers. The resolution needs nine votes for passage, with no vetoes from any of the permanent members: the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China.
The White House emphasized yesterday that the statement issued by France, Russia and Germany in Paris did not contain, as one official put it, "the v-word," and that no one could be certain there would be a veto until hands are raised for a final vote next week.
But U.N. diplomats said the formal declaration circulated at the council by France, Russia and Germany is clear.
"Our reading, and everybody's at the council, is that France and Russia will veto," one council diplomat said. "If this is so, why would others support something that is not going to pass anyway?"
Syria is also part of the declared opposition, as is China, although it is believed more likely to abstain than to veto.
Only the resolution's sponsors and Bulgaria currently are committed to vote yes. The United States and Britain have been heavily courting the remaining six members: Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola. Five of those votes are necessary for what the sponsors hope would be at least a moral victory, even if the resolution is vetoed.
Chile yesterday became the first of the six to declare itself against the resolution. Its U.N. ambassador, Juan Gabriel Valdes, said, "Chile can only support a resolution that includes benchmarks and timetables" for Iraqi progress.
Meanwhile, a senior aide to Cameroon's foreign minister, Francois-Xavier Ngoubeyou, said his government believes inspectors should be given more time and "cannot support U.S. ambitions to dominate and dictate to the rest of the world," Reuters reported from Yaounde, the capital.
Although there were indications that Britain might accept a change in wording to accommodate members' concerns, U.S. officials said last night that the United States was not.
As written, the measure simply declares Iraq has forfeited the last chance to comply with U.N. disarmament demands, which were outlined in the resolution unanimously adopted last November that restarted the weapons inspections.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations, Blix said that Iraq's cooperation with inspectors improved markedly over the past month and that he would "welcome" more time to do his work. With inspectors back in Iraq only three months, "It seems to me it would be a rather short time to close the door," he said.
Blix said he could no longer conclude, as he has in previous reports, that Iraq's behavior did not justify finding it was committed to "genuine disarmament." Baghdad's destruction this week, under U.N. orders, of 19 Al Samoud-2 missiles, launchers and other components constitute "real disarmament," he said. He added that the Iraqis "have been very actively, I would say proactively," disarming in recent weeks.
After more than two months of Baghdad's resisting unmonitored U.N. interviews with Iraqi scientists, Blix said it had helped facilitate seven such interviews.
Inspectors, he said, were not "naive," however, and "of course, we are aware that we are in a society where hotel rooms may be bugged and where many people carry recorders in their pockets or transmitters on themselves."
Blix said that Iraq has also provided new information on the fate of chemical and biological weapons it asserts were destroyed long ago. A recent excavation of a weapons burial site yielded evidence that Iraq destroyed as many as 100 R-400 bombs.
He said Powell provided him with no information on new evidence Iraq plans to clandestinely continue production of the Al Samoud-2 missiles, and said only a few U.S.-provided intelligence leads had yielded solid evidence of a secret weapons program.
France, Russia and Germany have pressed Blix to present the council with a list of disarmament tasks Iraq must undertake to satisfy council demands. In a move likely to irritate Washington, Blix said that his Friday presentation would include a list of 29 unresolved disarmament questions.
Powell said yesterday there is no point in the "tasks and benchmarks" scenario. Hussein, he said, "doesn't need to have these benchmarks repeated. He knows what they are, and he has not demonstrated a willingness to answer the questions that have been out there for so many years."
Lynch reported from the United Nations.