President Bush is making an all-out effort to win support for a U.N. Security Council resolution that could pave the way for military action to disarm Iraq. The White House said it is hopeful Russia and France will not veto the measure.
The diplomacy is intense in the period leading up to this crucial security council vote.
President Bush is putting his public schedule on hold to consult by telephone with foreign leaders. This, as Russia and France reaffirm their opposition to any U.N. resolution that could lead to the use of force against Iraq.
French President Jacques Chirac said his country will vote against the measure. Russian officials say they are prepared to vote "no" on the resolution in its current form, which sets a March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush would be disappointed to see a Russian veto.
"I note the foreign minister has indicated that is a possibility. And the president certainly hopes it will not come to that from the Russian point of view," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Fleischer noted that many council members will not make up their minds until the last minute, and anything can happen. "This is the United Nations process. It is not atypical for states on the security council to withhold their vote until the day of the vote. That is part and parcel of the democratic process of the security council," he said.
He points to new information that could emerge in the final hours of diplomacy, making specific mention of new revelations that Iraq has unmanned aircraft capable of dispensing chemical weapons. Mr. Fleischer said the disclosure came late last week from U.N. weapons inspectors, along with first word that Iraq has developed a new kind of cluster bomb to disperse both chemical and biological agents.
"They are undeclared. And we look forward to hearing more and learning more from the United Nations," the White House spokesman said.
During a session with reporters, Mr. Fleischer for the first time cast the need to take action against Iraq as a moral issue. He said during the humanitarian crises in Kosovo and Rwanda, the U.N. looked the other way. He said the Iraqi people deserve the right to live in freedom.
"The United Nations Security Council is from a moral point of view leaving the people of these regions on the sidelines. And from the president's point of view, that is a regrettable development if it happens," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Fleischer said once again that the president wants the U.N. to act on Iraq but if it does not, the United States will lead an international coalition to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.