Leaders of U.S., Britain, Spain to meet on resolution
Diplomatic efforts on Iraq crisis seemingly stall
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain prepared to meet this weekend to reassess their options in the Iraq crisis, chances of a diplomatic solution appeared to be slipping away Friday, with a new initiative by Chile quickly going nowhere.
President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will meet Sunday in the Azores, Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, to discuss their next moves. (More on the Azores)
Joining them will be Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, who has supported the Anglo-American hard-line approach to Iraqi disarmament.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the purpose of the summit is to give the three leaders the chance "to discuss how best to proceed to make it unequivocally clear to Saddam Hussein that there will be serious consequences if he fails to disarm.
"It was the determination of the three leaders that as they reached the point of finality from a diplomatic point of view, the best course to proceed is to meet with each to talk in person," he said.
Vote could be canceled
U.S. officials have said the three nations, which are sponsoring the latest draft U.N. resolution on disarming Iraq that is at the center of the crisis, might decide not to bring the resolution to a vote if it is clear it cannot win approval.
Bush and Blair have said they believe existing U.N. resolutions give them the authority to launch a military strike on Iraq, without a new resolution.
A proposal from Chile that would give Iraq three weeks to meet a series of conditions was quickly dismissed Friday by the United States.
Although the conditions in the Chilean proposal closely mirror those in the latest British draft, the three-week time frame would give Iraq much longer to comply -- an idea that Washington rejected out of hand. Fleischer called it a "non-starter."
A senior State Department official who rejected the Chilean initiative as a whole called it an "honest effort" but described it as being "like designing a horse [but] coming up with a camel."
New "benchmarks" suggested by Britain this week would require Iraq to meet six tests to prove that it was serious about complying with U.N. demands to disarm or face military action.
The sponsors of the plan had expressed willingness to move the original deadline to secure approval.
U.S.: Chirac 'fuzzed up the issue'
The Bush administration now believes it is unlikely that the Security Council resolution will get the nine votes it needs to pass, senior administration officials told CNN on Friday. French President Jacques Chirac's threat to veto the resolution has, in the words of one official, "fuzzed up the issue" and discouraged undecided council members from backing the measure.
Administration officials are not holding out hope that Chirac's opposition will soften.
Amid the diplomatic stalemate, though, came signs that the United States is considering a pre-emptive military strike in southern Iraq to keep Iraqi forces in check on the eve of a possible war. Sources told CNN that the move is being considered as a defensive measure in the event that an ultimatum by the United States triggers an Iraqi attack.
No details were disclosed on what kind of pre-emptive strike is being considered or where it would hit. Iraq has been moving troops and weapons south toward Kuwait, where the bulk of U.S. forces in the region are based, military sources have said.
So far, only one other country on the Security Council, Bulgaria, has publicly supported Britain, Spain and the United States on the new resolution. Three permanent members with veto power -- France, Russia and China -- have expressed opposition, as have two other members, Germany and Syria.
At mid-week, State Department and White House officials were saying they believed that they had persuaded Guinea, Cameroon, Pakistan and Angola to come on board, giving them eight of the nine votes they needed for passage. Although France or Russia still might have vetoed the resolution, U.S. officials believed nine affirmative votes would have been a "moral victory" and an important sign of international support.
But Chirac's vow, in a television interview, to use his veto, and France's quick rejection of Britain's proposed "benchmarks" and March 17 deadline, might have turned the tide. A U.S. official close to the deliberations said that with the French ready to kill the measure, many of the undeclared members started to wonder, "Why bother?"
Late Friday, a Guinean diplomat told CNN that his country has decided how it will vote on the resolution -- but he would not say what that vote would be.
Late Friday, Iraq delivered further details to U.N. weapons inspectors about its claims to have destroyed 3.9 tons of the nerve agent VX. A 20-page document written in Arabic was handed over by Iraqi officials in Baghdad and New York. (Full story)
-- CNN correspondents Andrea Koppel, Richard Roth, John King, Barbara Starr, Jamie McIntyre, Robin Oakley and Al Goodman contributed to this report.