The U.N. Security Council is set to adopt a resolution paving the way for deployment of a blue-helmeted peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region.

The Council scheduled a Thursday meeting to consider a U.S and British-sponsored measure calling for upgrading the current African Union force in Darfur. The draft resolution under negotiation would authorize an increase in the size of the AU force from 7,000 to as many as 22,000 troops and police, with an eye toward converting it to a U.N. operation.

The Sudanese government has expressed strong opposition to allowing a U.N. force into the Darfur region. But the Washington Post newspaper and news agencies reported Wednesday that President Bush had offered to meet Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at the United Nations next month as an incentive to persuade him to drop his objections.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Wednesday Sudan might agree to allow U.N. control once the Security Council acts.

"I think there's a chicken and egg situation here," said John Bolton. "I think once the resolution is passed, the consent may be forthcoming more rapidly than people think."

Bolton says the resolution could play an important role in stopping what the United States has called genocide in Darfur.

"We think it is critical to mitigating the humanitarian disaster that's occurring in Darfur, and we need to do it as soon as possible," he said.

At least two Council members, Qatar and veto-wielding China, have expressed opposition to the Darfur measure. But Council diplomats late Wednesday said China appears to have agreed not to use its veto, and would probably abstain from the vote.

U.N. humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland reported to the Security Council this week that the world body's entire aid operation in Darfur, which is supporting millions of displaced persons, is on the verge of collapse.

Security in the region is said to be worse than it has been in years.

The Darfur conflict erupted more than three years ago, when non-Arab villagers rebelled against the Khartoum government in a dispute over land and water resources. The government responded by mobilizing militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of widespread war crimes.

The conflict has killed an estimated 200,000 people and driven more than two million others from their homes.