The United States stepped up diplomatic efforts Monday to get reluctant countries to recognize what its says is Iraq's failure to fully cooperate with last November's U.N. disarmament resolution. Secretary of State Colin Powell took the lead in the effort with talks at the United Nations.

Mr. Powell joined fellow foreign ministers from U.N. Security Council member states for a meeting on terrorism convened by France. But the question of Iraq dominated the proceedings, with the Secretary pressing the case that Iraq's lack of cooperation with U.N. inspectors has put it in material breach of the resolution that ostensibly gave it one last chance to avoid military action.

In remarks at the council session, Mr. Powell warned the U.N. body not to shrink from its responsibilities when the inspectors make their formal report next Monday, saying the Security Council must avoid being "shocked into impotence" because of fear of the difficult choices that lie ahead.

He struck a similar tone in a subsequent talk with reporters, saying that if the United Nations is going to be relevant, it has to take a "firm stand" with respect to Iraq's "continuing disregard" of its obligations under last November's Resolution 1441 and its predecessors.

"If Iraq is disarming, then there may be a solution to this crisis without conflict," he said. "But if Iraq is not disarming, the United Nations cannot simply turn its head away and ignore this lack of respect that Iraq has for the United Nations and the international community. And we must not be afraid to meet the challenges that are ahead."

Mr. Powell got support within the council from British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who said while his government supports a peaceful resolution of the confrontation, there comes a point when its patience must run out and that "we are now near that point with Iraq."

"The time for Iraq is running out, and Iraq must stop this cat and mouse game," he said. "I'm unimpressed with what they have done today: finding a few more shells, offering a bit more cooperation. Because the simple truth is they should have been cooperating in this way from the very minute that Resolution 1441 was passed.

But there were also notes of caution, with China arguing for giving the U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and Germany flatly rejecting the idea of military action, saying it would have "disastrous consequences" for the Middle East and "negative repercussions" for the global fight against terrorism.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher said his government has no illusions about the "brutal nature" of the Iraqi regime, but said it is not time give up on the inspections process.

"We will achieve success by the work of Hans Blix and his team, and Dr. ElBaradei, I think they are doing an excellent job," he said. "Iraq has fully to comply with all relevant resolutions and to cooperate very closely with the U.N. team on the ground. And, we think things are moving in the right direction based on the efforts of the inspection teams. And Blix and his team should have all the time which is needed."

U.S. officials are not calling the January 27 submission of the inspectors report a "deadline", but they say it will be an important juncture in determining how to proceed.

In an address to military reserve officers in Washington Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "we are nearing the end of the long road" and that the inspections process should not be allowed to drag on.

"No one wants war. But as the president has said, Iraq will be disarmed and the decision between war and peace will be made not in Washington D.C. and not in the United Nations in New York, but rather in Baghdad," he said. "It is their decision. Either they will cooperate or they won't, and it will not take months to determine whether or not they are cooperating."

Mr. Rumsfeld said a "substantial number" of countries have already committed to join a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq if it came to war, and that the idea the United States would have to go it alone in such a conflict is "nonsense." He also said it would be "wonderful" if Saddam Hussein defused the crisis himself by voluntarily going into exile.