UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an uphill struggle for U.N. support, said today the world body "must not walk away" from supporting force to disarm Iraq, despite some progress achieved through the pressure of international inspections.
President Saddam Hussein's intent "has not changed," Powell told the Security Council as he sought adoption of a new resolution to back force as a last option. "Iraq is once again moving down the path to weapons of mass destruction," he said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, sitting to Powell's right, nodded affirmatively at Powell's refusal to accept the notion that Iraq had turned a corner toward cooperation with the United Nations. Other ministers attending the council session sat by impassively.
Iraq's performance on disarmament is "still a catalogue of noncooperation," Powell said. With a long record of deceit, "how can we rely on assurances?" Powell asked.
He spoke not long after U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they'd been told by Iraqi authorities that they would have growing access to suspect sites.
Powell said that Iraq's limited cooperation was offered in a "grudging manner" and without an unqualified commitment to disarm completely.
And yet a succession of foreign ministers took an opposite approach, saying war would only ignite a new wave of violence. They called for maintaining pressure on Iraq with a reinvigorated inspection system.
Powell came to the United Nations in what President Bush called "the last phase of diplomacy," seeking to persuade skeptical governments that only force, not more inspections, will disarm Iraq and neutralize Saddam.
But in true diplomatic fashion, Powell also was considering a compromise in the tough U.N. resolution authorizing force proposed by the United States and two allies, Britain and Spain, in order to gain Security Council approval.
It is likely to give Iraq a week to 10 days after adoption of the resolution to agree to rid itself of illegal weapons, a U.S. official said, as Britain prepared to present the resolution to the council.
Clearly aware of the sentiment on the council against war, Powell behind the scenes conferred with Straw, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and other ministers, attempting to temper the resolution slightly to try to attract support.
Powell said Iraq has retained thousands of biological and chemical weapons and has 10,000 delivery systems to target other countries. And even while agreeing to destroy some missiles, there is evidence that it intends to produce others, he said.
In advance of their presentation, however, the Bush administration took the view that the report merely confirmed that Iraq has no intention of disarming.
"Token gestures are not acceptable," Bush told a nationwide TV audience at a news conference Thursday night. He said he had not decided whether to invade Iraq but that it was only a matter of days before the Security Council would vote on the new resolution authorizing force.
"We're calling for a vote," the president said, even if the United States doesn't have the votes to prevail. "It's time for people to show their cards and let people know where they stand in relation to Saddam."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said today, "We'll be in a situation of war within a couple of weeks. My estimation. That's not official and certainly not the White House's position."
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said that Iraq poses a threat to the United States, asserting that it has ties to terrorists. "We have to take that threat away, and I think we will," he told a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Findlay, Ohio.
Powell met Thursday with five foreign ministers, including France's Dominique de Villepin, the driving force in the anti-war bloc on the council. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell discussed with them modifying the resolution to attract maximum support while retaining its core demand that Iraq disarm completely.
Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani, Qatar's foreign minister, met with Vice President Dick Cheney and planned to sit down later in the day with Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"We hope that this problem can be resolved peacefully and through the Security Council," he told reporters after the Cheney meeting.
Democrats weighed in, with Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle saying in Washington that the administration had brought on an "extraordinary disintegration" of support from other nations by rushing toward war.
And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the United States should hold off military action to allow more time for diplomacy, weapons inspections and "the leverage provided by the threat" of war.
"I do not believe that going to war now is the best way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," the California Democrat said in remarks prepared for delivery today to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Beyond his attendance at the Security Council session, Powell set up meetings today with several of his counterparts and scheduled a lunch with Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general who has given cautious blessing to the inspection system as an effective way to disarm Iraq.