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U.S. within 'striking distance' of U.N. support on Iraq

Powell: Administration 'making some progress'

British soldiers stand under their squadron's colors Sunday while armor is added to their reconnaissance vehicles in Kuwait.
British soldiers stand under their squadron's colors Sunday while armor is added to their reconnaissance vehicles in Kuwait.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is within "striking distance" of winning U.N. support for a possible war with Iraq, but the Bush administration is prepared to move against Baghdad without it, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution, introduced Friday by Britain, would give Iraq until March 17 to prove it has disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction.

"If we get the vote, fine, then the international community is unified behind that effort," Powell told CNN. "If we don't get the vote, the president then will have to make a judgment as to whether or not we're prepared now to lead a coalition of the willing to disarm [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein."

Powell said Sunday that the White House was "making some progress with the elected 10 members" of the Security Council toward winning support for the deadline.

"But as you know, the French have taken a strong position to oppose any new resolutions," Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"And although they haven't used the word 'veto,' they're certainly indicating that."

But Powell appeared optimistic, saying on "Fox News Sunday" that the administration was within "striking distance" of winning the nine votes needed on the 15-member Security Council.

Members of the administration were telephoning heads of state this weekend seeking support for the resolution. President Bush will join the effort Monday, a White House spokesman said Saturday.

Standing firm against 'tyranny'

On CBS' "Face the Nation" Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice again made the case for deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"The president is doing what leaders have to do; when leaders don't take on tyranny soon enough it only grows, and it gets worse when leaders don't take on tyranny. Soon enough you have 9/11 but perhaps the next time with biological weapons, and that's what the president is saying."

U.S. officials have told council members to be prepared for a vote as soon as Tuesday. The council's five permanent members -- Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States -- have veto power.

Powell said the March 17 deadline is a firm one, though the United States is still willing to compromise on the language of a resolution setting that date.

The Bush administration has clear support for the deadline from three other council members: Britain, Spain and Bulgaria.

In addition to France, Russia and China have expressed opposition, as have Germany and Syria. Six members remain uncommitted.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin left Paris on Sunday to visit the three undecided African members of the council: Angola, Cameroon and Guinea. (Full story)

De Villepin said Friday's report to the council from U.N. weapons inspectors showed progress and that the inspectors should be given more time.

Both Powell and Rice were asked about the allegation last week by Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the United States had supplied forged documents to support its contention that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger in breach of U.N. sanctions.

"It was the information that we had. We provided it. If that information is inaccurate, fine," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We don't believe that all the issues surrounding nuclear weapons have been resolved [in Iraq]," he said.

Levin: 'Stick with the U.N.'

Powell said the decision on whether to go to war remained with the president, but the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the United States should consider the wisdom of acting unilaterally.

"I think we ought to make our case with the U.N., and then we ought to stick with the U.N.," Sen. Carl Levin said on "Late Edition." "It makes no sense to invoke U.N. resolutions as the basis for proceeding and then ignore the U.N. if they disagree with us."

The Michigan Democrat said the buildup of U.S. troops in the region should continue because it provides a powerful backing to the resolutions. He added that abiding by a possible veto of the resolution did not mean he favored giving another nation veto power over U.S. security.

"I'm not willing to give anybody a veto over whether or not it's in our security to initiate an attack," he said. "If there is an immediate threat, then of course we will act. But there is not an immediate threat."

In a news conference Sunday, the head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate said Friday's reports from the U.N.'s chief weapons inspectors proved false the allegations that Iraq harbors weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has consistently denied possessing chemical, nuclear and biological arms.

"Once again, we have confirmed that Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction," Gen. Hussam Amin said. "All the American and British allegations are lies and baseless accusations."

Amin also said that Iraq believes Bush intends to go to war regardless of how well Iraq cooperates with the weapons inspectors.

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