White House sources: U.N. vote might not happen
Officials: U.S. talking surrender with Iraqi military
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush courted key Security Council members and compared notes with his two main allies Wednesday, as the White House left open the possibility that there might not be a vote on a new U.N. resolution on Iraq.
U.S. officials said Bush still wants a vote and wants it this week, but nothing was locked in because of the ongoing diplomacy.
Presidential aides said Bush will move quickly in the aftermath of the U.N. debate -- regardless of its outcome -- to lay out how he sees the path ahead unfolding. His remarks would come within days of a U.N. decision and perhaps within hours, and are all but certain to include a final U.S. ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Britain and the United States said Wednesday they would consider dropping the March 17 ultimatum for Iraqi disarmament compliance if Security Council members accept a proposal to give Saddam specific disarmament tasks to complete in a short amount of time.
These include handing over supplies of anthrax, or proving they were destroyed; allowing Iraqi scientists and their families to travel outside the country to be interviewed by inspectors; and accounting for unmanned drones that the United States and Britain allege can be used to spray chemical or biological weapons. (Full story)
Diplomats said following a tense three-hour closed meeting that the initial reaction to the British proposals from those opposed to military action -- particularly France and Germany -- was negative.
One diplomat accused the British and the U.S. of "sneaky games," and said they were trying to trick the council into authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
British U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters that if the British proposal "gains traction," then the co-sponsors of the March 17 resolution -- the United States, Britain and Spain -- would be willing to drop a key paragraph of that text.
The paragraph in question says the council "decides that Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity afforded by resolution 1441 (2002) unless, on or before 17 March 2003, the Council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation" with its disarmament obligations.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said if the council came together, one option available would be "a modest extension, very brief," to the existing deadline.
U.S. officials have said that resolution 1441, passed November 8, already provides authorization for military force. It refers to "serious consequences" as a result of any "material breach" of the resolution by Iraq.
One diplomat questioned why the British and Americans were making this proposal if they believed they already had the authority to use force.
"Why are they so desperate for the council to endorse something they don't want to endorse?" the diplomat asked.
Russia and France have threatened to veto the resolution.
A British official said the initial reaction from the six officially undecided countries -- Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and Guinea -- was "very positive."
The council is scheduled to reconvene Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. to discuss the proposal.
Britain has promised council members it would allow 24 hours between the presentation of the final text and a vote.
Earlier, Bush spoke to the presidents of Russia and Pakistan in a bid to win their support -- or in Russia's case, at least to dissuade President Vladimir Putin from instructing his diplomats to use Moscow's veto power on the Security Council.
After being adamant for days that Bush would insist on an up-or-down vote at the Security Council, senior administration officials now say it is possible the United States and its council allies would not seek a vote.
One senior official said "it remains our intention" to seek a vote, but added, "the situation is very fluid."
"Nothing is ruled in or out because so much is in play," a second official said. This official, however, added that "obviously the president thinks it is important to have a vote."
Nine votes on the 15-member council are needed to pass the resolution, but a veto by any of the five permanent members would defeat it. Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States are permanent members.
Even if the measure is vetoed, the Bush administration would consider nine votes a moral victory, sources said.
Earlier, two senior State Department officials said the Bush administration believed it was one vote shy of nine and was focusing its diplomatic energies on Mexico and Chile to secure their backing.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that surrender negotiations have secretly begun with key Iraqi military officials in hopes that some military units will not fight in a possible war. (Full story)
One senior official said that some parts of the Iraqi military already may have agreed not to fight.
These efforts underscore assessments by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency that the leadership around Saddam Hussein is brittle. Officials have been making that view somewhat public as part of an effort to publicize what they say is Saddam's vulnerability.
The officials said they could not give specifics, citing concern that Saddam would enact retribution.
CNN Correspondents David Ensor, Al Goodman, John King, Andrea Koppel and Barbara Starr contributed to this report. For latest developments, see CNN.com's Iraq Tracker.