Secretary of State Colin Powell says he is still holding out hope the U.N. Security Council can agree on a resolution demanding new U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq and threatening Saddam Hussein's government Iraq with consequences if it failed to disarm.
Mr. Powell and other U.S. diplomats have been working behind the scenes for more than six weeks in an effort to negotiate an acceptable resolution on Iraq. And at a news conference ending two days of U.S.- Australian security talks, the Secretary of State suggested the United States might have to end its behind-the-scenes diplomacy and force a resolution to a vote if there is no breakthrough in the council soon.
"We're getting close to a point where we'll have to see whether or not we can bridge these remaining differences," said Colin Powell. "In the very near future, I don't want to give you days or a week, but it certainly isn't much longer than that. I think sometime in the very near future we will have to see whether or not we can get for the most part, consensus on our resolution. And if not, we'll have to make a judgement as to whether we start putting resolutions up, competing resolutions, for votes. So I think it's in the very near future."
The United States is seeking a single resolution sending inspectors back to Iraq and threatening consequences if Iraq fails to disarm. But it has been resisted in the Security Council by France, among others, which also supports new inspections but wants any discussion of military action or other consequences to be left to a second resolution if Iraq fails to comply.
Mr. Powell, who spoke by telephone twice Tuesday with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, said there may still be a way to bridge remaining differences and that he thinks the negotiators "are getting closer."
But he made clear the United States will not drop its demand that the resolution confront Iraq with the prospect of consequences, saying otherwise Baghdad will, in his words, "try to deceive and distract," and may try to do so regardless of the wording of a new resolution.