The United States expects a new U.N. resolution will be introduced at the Security Council next week declaring Iraq in material breach of demands that it disarm. It could clear the way for military action against Baghdad if it does not quickly change course and fully cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. The resolution is not expected to set a deadline but will signal that the diplomatic effort to get Iraq to disclose its suspected weapons of mass destruction has all but come to an end.
What is expected to be a final resolution on Iraq will likely declare Baghdad to be in material breach of U.N. demands that it disarm, wording that would be used as the legal justification to disarm Baghdad by force.
President Bush, on a trip to the state of Georgia Thursday, again accused Iraq of practicing what he called denial and endless delay in complying with U.N. disarmament demands, and was sounding resigned to what could be the next steps in the process. "The day of freedom is drawing near," he said.
He came as close as he ever has in the standoff with Iraq to putting the world on notice that war could now be imminent. "This nation, joined by others, will act decisively in a just cause and we will prevail," he said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell tells French television he does not expect the resolution will set an explicit deadline for Iraq to cooperate but diplomats say it will no doubt make clear that the window for doing so is about to close.
After nearly three months of inspections and what Washington calls irrefutable proof that Iraq continues to hide weapons of mass destruction, the United States and Britain have failed to change the minds of any country on the Security Council that is reluctant to use force. A majority of the 15 council members still favor giving inspections more time.
These differences were on display Thursday with Russia's U.N. ambassador Sergey Lavrov again disagreeing with the position held by British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock.
"What we all need is to unite or keep united behind the inspectors," said Mr. Lavrov.
"What we need is voluntary disarmament. We know what it is when a country intends to disarm and comes to use the instrument of inspectors to disarm. That is not happening," replied Mr. Greenstock.
It is unclear exactly when Britain or the United States would be willing to put a new Security Council resolution that would clear the way for military action to a vote, given the likelihood that France, China or Russia could veto it.
But in a sign that the diplomatic process may have just about reached its end, both the United States and Britain have now urged their citizens to leave Iraq's neighbor, Kuwait, from where a U.S.-led military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein's government would be launched.