The White House says it may not seek a vote on a new U.N. resolution against Iraq, as that measure continues to face opposition from China, Russia, and France. President Bush had hoped to get a vote by Friday.
White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says the diplomatic process under way may conclude tomorrow, or it may continue into next week.
Mr. Bush is looking for nine votes in the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution vowing to enforce earlier demands of "serious consequences" against Iraq, if it does not disarm.
The president last Friday said he wanted a Security Council vote, regardless of whether the measure would pass. But administration officials Thursday opened the possibility of withdrawing the resolution, if it does not have enough support.
The U.S., British, and Spanish plan sets Monday as a deadline for Iraq to disarm, so if the vote is pushed into next week, that deadline would have to be extended as well.
France, Russia, and China oppose the resolution, because it could bring the dispute closer to war. They want weapons inspections to continue, with more regular reports to the Security Council.
France says it will vote against the new resolution, and on Wednesday rejected a British proposal to set conditions for Iraqi compliance.
Mr. Fleischer says French threats are "not the way to disarm" Iraq.
"France also looked at the British proposal, and they rejected it before Iraq rejected it," he said. "If that's not an unreasonable veto, what is? So, we look at what France is doing, and we wish they were doing otherwise."
Mr. Fleischer says the president is "going the extra mile" for a U.N. resolution, "but there's a limit to how far he will go down that road."
Mr. Bush Thursday continued a busy week of telephone diplomacy, with calls to the leaders of South Korea and Bulgaria, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with whom he is planning strategy about how best to pursue their resolution.
Mr. Bush also met with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at a traditional White House ceremony marking St. Patrick's Day. The prime minister said Ireland supports the new resolution forcing Iraq to give up suspected stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
"Our goal is the goal of the United Nations - the disarmament of the Iraq regime by peaceful means, if at all possible," Mr. Ahern said. "And for the United Nations to be effective, for the United Nations to be respected, it must be united in purpose as well as in name. The brutal regime in Iraq poses precisely the kind of threat to international peace and security that the United Nations was created to deal with."
President Bush thanked the Irish prime minister for supporting a resolution last November that called on Iraq to comply with U.N. demands.
"We appreciate Ireland's support for ensuring that the just demands of the world are enforced," the president said. "Responsibilities of freedom are not always easy to bare, but Ireland and America are joined by a common commitment to freedom's defense against tyranny and terror."
With more than 270,000 U.S. and British troops in the region, President Bush says he is ready to use military force to disarm Iraq regardless of what the Security Council decides.