The United States and Britain are suggesting they may be willing to give Iraq more time to disarm, beyond the March 17 deadline proposed in a draft United Nations resolution. That measure is facing a veto threat from Russia and France, which oppose military action against Baghdad for its failure to give up its weapons of mass destruction.
With more than a quarter of a million U.S. and British troops now in the Persian Gulf region, the Bush administration says there will be a vote in the U.N. Security Council this week on a resolution that would in effect, give U.N. backing for a war to disarm Iraq.
But France and Russia have not budged from their threat to veto it if necessary, insisting Iraq be given at least several more months to disarm in the presence of U.N. weapons inspectors. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov echoed the French view.
"We see no reason whatsoever to interrupt the inspections and any resolution which contains ultimatums and which contains automaticity for the use of force is not acceptable to us," he said.
Opposition to the U.S. and British-backed resolution has led Washington and London to suggest giving Iraq more time to demonstrate a strategic decision to disarm. But Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock says the timeline would not go beyond the end of March and at the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed a proposal put forward by six undecided members of the security council to extend the disarmament deadline even further.
"The president thinks that there is a little room for a little more diplomacy, but not much time. Any suggestion of 30 days, 45 days is a non-starter," he said.
Even though no decision has been made to go to war, the U.S. government is already well into planning for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
Invitations have gone out to American companies to bid on contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in what would be the largest reconstruction effort undertaken by the United States since the end of World War II.
And at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed Tuesday the U.S. military is in contact with members of the Iraqi military who may not want to fight with Saddam Hussein's army in order to devise a way for them to let that be known on the battlefield.
"They are being communicated with privately at the present time. They will be communicated with in a more public way," he said. "And they will receive instructions so that they can behave in a way that will be seen and understood as being non threatening and they will be not considered combatants." Meanwhile, here in the United States, a new public opinion poll finds that just over half of those asked, or 55 percent, say they would support a U.S. led attack on Iraq even if it is carried out in defiance of the United Nations. But some 52 percent of the 1,000 people asked by a CBS News and The New York Times poll also say they believe U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to search for Iraq's suspected nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.