The United States and Britain are working behind the scenes to find the votes they need to gain U.N. backing for a resolution that would effectively endorse military action against Baghdad, if it refuses to disarm.
A vote in the Security Council is expected next week. But at this point, Washington and London still do not have the necessary support among the 13 other Council members to ensure passage.
For that to happen, nine of the 15 member countries must vote for it and China, France and Russia must refrain from using their veto power.
The United States, Britain and Spain introduced the draft resolution last week. The text asks the Security Council to conclude that Iraq has squandered its final chance to disarm peacefully and now risks serious consequences. That would almost certainly mean war since President Bush has declared his administration plans to disarm Iraq with U.N. support, or without it, through a coalition of nations willing to act.
Whether Washington and London get U.N. backing is likely to depend on how other Security Council members react to the latest report on Iraqi disarmament.
On Monday, U.N. weapons inspectors said Iraq had begun to comply with demands of U.N. chief weapons inspector Han Blix and destroyed a total of 16 of its short range Al-Samoud two missiles since Saturday. It also destroyed some empty artillery shells that had contained mustard gas.
Mr. Blix has characterized this as progress, but the Bush administration disagrees. "All that we're seeing here are some piecemeal concessions designed to give the impression of progress," said John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "But there's been no serious substantive progress with respect to Iraqi disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction."
But Germany's U.N. ambassador Gunter Pleuger, whose government firmly opposes military action against Iraq, is waiting to hear what Hans Blix tells Council members when he briefs them later this week. Even limited progress, he says, would be reason enough to let the inspection process continue.
"If he can report that Iraq now is cooperating better and is giving proactive cooperation, is fulfilling his disarmament task, I hope that this will positively impact on the discussion next Friday," he said.
But the United States and Britain are already convinced Iraq is not disarming and are making it clear that with or without the United Nations, Baghdad may have only days left before military action begins.