U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is closing in on the votes necessary to pass a United Nations resolution that would pave the way for the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein. But Mr. Powell acknowledges that France, one of five permanent members of the Security Council, could use its veto to kill the measure.
With a crucial vote nearing in the council, Washington and Paris are making all-out efforts to win support for their conflicting stands on Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell says the White House is within "striking distance" of the nine votes needed on the 15-member Security Council to pass a resolution giving Iraq until March 17 to disarm. He told CNN's Late Edition that the administration is working hard to meet its goal.
"And I think we are making some progress with the elected 10 members," he said. "But as you know, the French have taken a strong position to oppose any resolution. Although they haven't used the word 'veto,' they are certainly indicating that."
Earlier, during an appearance on the Fox News Sunday, television program, Secretary Powell said he would not be surprised if France did indeed veto the measure.
"I don't think they have hidden their hand on this one. They have been out front, saying they do not think this is the way to go," he said.
He spoke at a time of intense diplomatic efforts. While top U.S. officials were making their case on American television, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was heading off on a quick tour of three African countries that are seen as key "swing votes" on the council: Angola, Guinea and Cameroon.
On ABC's This Week, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, was asked if the White House was also planning to send top officials to foreign capitals.
"It may well be necessary to do some travel. We will see. But there is a lot of contact with these countries," she said.
Ms. Rice downplayed the notion of major changes in the wording of the U.S.-backed resolution, as did Secretary Powell. Both said the March 17 deadline is firm.
"We think that the 17th is plenty of time for Saddam Hussein to show that he is finally going to come into compliance with [Resolution] 1441," she said. "He has had a very long time to do it. He could do it tomorrow, if he wants to do it."
Resolution 1441, which warned of serious consequences if Iraq did not disarm, passed unanimously last November. Three of the five permanent Security Council members - France, Russia and China - have questioned the need for another resolution. They are calling for more time for U.N. weapons inspectors. Also urging the Bush administration to reconsider is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
In an opinion article written for the editorial section of Sunday's New York Times, Mr. Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said America's stature in the world will decline, if Washington launches a war in defiance of the United Nations.
Secretary Powell took issue with the former president. He told the Fox News Network that war is never popular. But he went on to predict that, when the truth comes out, and people are liberated, public opinion will change.