The Bush administration yesterday abandoned its effort to win United Nations backing for a war against Iraq in the face of widespread international rejection of both its rationale and tactics, bringing nearly six months of intense diplomacy to an abrupt end and setting the stage for a U.S. invasion to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Just hours after President Bush said Sunday that he would spend one more day "working the phones" to persuade U.N. Security Council members to support a war resolution, a survey of council governments by U.S. and British diplomats concluded that as many as 11 of the 15 members opposed and further attempts at persuasion were pointless, diplomatic sources said.
Late Sunday night, U.S. officials telephoned U.N. weapons inspectors to advise they begin pulling out of Iraq. They were told they would not get a second warning, U.N. officials said.
In a National Security Council meeting yesterday morning, Bush finalized the decision to withdraw the resolution from consideration and prepared to deliver an address to the nation that had already been written. Rather than calling doubters, he spent much of the day telephoning committed allies, including the prime ministers of Britain and Spain, who co-sponsored the U.N. measure; Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria, the only other council member to support it; Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who said Bush had asked him to send Australian troops to Iraq.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the U.S. decision to abandon its diplomatic efforts "a disappointment and a sad day for everybody." He ordered the evacuation of all U.N. personnel, including weapons inspectors, humanitarian aid workers who distribute food to most of the Iraqi population and peacekeepers who guard the Iraq-Kuwait border.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell telephoned nearly two dozen foreign ministers and presidents, and others at the Vatican and the European Union to brief them in advance on Bush's address to the nation last night. In calls to Arab foreign ministers, diplomatic sources said, Powell pledged that Bush, even as he went to war, would this week publicly release the long-promised "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace as a gesture designed to calm anticipated anti-U.S. upheaval in the Arab world.
Previewing Bush's speech at a morning news conference, Powell offered Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a last-minute chance to flee the country, while saying that the "peaceful entry of force" into Iraq would still be required. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa set off for Baghdad, presumably to appeal to Hussein to leave, but few seemed to believe the exile offer was seriously extended, or that Hussein would seriously consider it. Senior administration officials, and Arab officials who had broached and then dropped the idea months ago, dismissed it yesterday as unrealistic.
When the end came at the Security Council, it was with anger and accusations on all sides. Ambassador Mamady Traore, of Guinea, the current council president, had called U.N. ambassadors at home Sunday night and scheduled a morning meeting after being informed of the U.S. calls to inspectors. It was the second call they received that night, one council ambassador said. British U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock "went around the 11 [opponents], calling each one, and realized they had no possibility of gaining the support of even one. That was clear from the statements" ambassadors made in yesterday's meeting, the diplomat said.
Greenstock opened the closed-door meeting by lamenting that the resolution had not been accepted and that the council "would not give one last chance to peace," sources said. Several diplomats present said Greenstock had distorted the weeks of debate over the resolution by describing it as an ultimatum for Hussein, rather than what they considered was a demand to authorize an automatic use of force without hearing further from inspectors.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, said that there would be no vote, because one country -- France -- had said it would use its veto. U.S. officials, including Bush in last night's speech, continued throughout the day to blame France for preempting a fair vote on the measure with its veto threat.
"We have had to conclude that council consensus will not be possible," Greenstock later told reporters. "One country in particular has underlined its intention to veto any ultimatum 'no matter what the circumstances.' That country rejected our proposed compromise even before the Iraqi government itself."
Negroponte said he was confident the vote "would have been close." But France's U.N. envoy, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said that U.S. failure to win passage was due to overwhelming opposition in the Security Council to war, not to French intransigence.
"They have realized that the majority in the council is against and oppose a resolution authorizing the use of force," de la Sabliere said. "Members of the council repeatedly stated that -- and it is a majority in the council -- that it would not be legitimate to authorize the use of force now while the inspections set up by resolution are producing results."
An ambassador from one of six nonpermanent members whose votes the United States sought said "they would have had no more than four votes if they had put the resolution to a vote. This is the most consistent and astonishing defeat since the United Nations was created. I don't know of any other time in which the United States has been more isolated."
During the closed-door meeting, Pakistan and Mexico questioned the legality of what the United States was about to do, saying that it had distorted the meaning of U.N. Resolution 1441 passed by the Security Council in November, diplomatic sources said. The measure demanded Iraq's full and immediate disarmament. The two countries said the United States could not claim legal justification for war, as Bush did in last night's speech, under the 1990 resolution that authorized the Persian Gulf War, the sources said.
"The Security Council has to do something about it," one diplomat said of the legal issue. "But we're not in the mood to do it at this point."
As inspectors began evacuating Iraq, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix submitted a new "working program" to guide inspections over the next few months. France, Germany and Russia proposed that foreign ministers from Security Council member nations meet in New York on Wednesday to discuss the future of inspections. A senior administration official in Washington said Powell would not attend.
Lynch reported from the United Nations.