The Bush administration, amid a flurry of diplomacy on Iraq, has rejected a Canadian proposal that Baghdad be given until the end of March to complete U.N.-mandated disarmament tasks. U.S. officials say Iraq has already had more than enough time to disarm.
Canada floated the proposal for the March 28 deadline in an effort to bridge the gap between the United States and Britain, who are seeking an early Security Council vote authorizing military action against Iraq, and France and Germany, who favor letting U.N. inspections continue at least into July.
A Canadian paper circulated at the United Nations warned that divisions within the Council on such a critical issue would have serious long-term implications for the U.N. and for international peace and stability.
It said open-ended inspections would relieve pressure on Iraq to disarm, but said a truncated process would leave doubt as to whether war was actually a last resort.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien discussed the initiative in a call to President Bush Wednesday while Secretary of State Colin Powell had a similar phone conversation with Canada's Foreign Minister Bill Graham.
Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the North American neighbors agree on the need to disarm Iraq, but said the Canadian proposal "only procrastinates" on a decision the United Nations should be making now.
"Our goal is also to focus peoples' minds on the facts of the matter, to focus peoples' minds on where we are, how long its been since 1991 when the council set its first deadline of 45 days for Iraq to disarm. We've now gone over 4,200 days. The council has said nine times that Iraq was in material breach. We've said 11 times that that would result in serious consequences. The question that faces us now is when are we going to mean it?" Mr. Boucher said.
Mr. Powell also conferred on Iraq here with a senior Russian emissary, President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, who earlier met top officials at the White House.
Russia has sided with France and Germany in favor of more inspections, though administration officials hope Russia will at least abstain on, and thus not veto, the U.S.-backed draft resolution now under discussion.
The administration is also intensely lobbying the non-veto-wielding elected members of the Security Council for support.
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca is enroute to Islamabad for talks with Pakistani officials on the resolution.
Her African affairs counterpart, Walter Kansteiner, is just back from a similar mission to Angola and Guinea capped by a meeting in Paris with the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya.
The three African countries and Pakistan, along with Chile and Mexico, are uncommitted thus far on the U.S. draft and are being courted by both camps in the divided Council.