WASHINGTON (AP) – Forced into a diplomatic retreat, U.S. officials said yesterday that President Bush may delay a vote on his troubled U.N. resolution or even drop it – and fight Iraq without the international body’s backing. France dismissed a compromise plan as an “automatic recourse to war.”

Amid a swirl of recrimination and 11th-hour posturing, the White House called France’s position unreasonable while U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan raised the possibility of a global summit “to get us out of this crisis.”

Iraq braced for war, lining the streets of Baghdad with fighting positions and foxholes, while the Pentagon moved B-2 stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to bases close to Iraq.

The government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein exulted in the diplomatic tumult over a U.S.-British backed resolution that would demand that Iraq disarm by Monday. The allies “have lost the round before it starts while we, along with well-intentioned powers in the world, have won it,” the popular daily Babil, owned by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s son, Odai, said in a front-page editorial.

Bush spent a fourth day on the telephone, consulting leaders of Britain, Bulgaria, South Korea, Poland, El Salvador and Norway.

The U.S. diplomatic drive was centered on Chile and Mexico, both members of the U.N. Security Council, a senior administration official said. Their support would ensure the United States of the minimum nine votes need for adoption of the resolution.

But France’s threat to veto is taken seriously, and the administration may decide not to give France the chance by withdrawing the resolution, the official said on condition of anonymity. Bush was ready to drop the resolution, several aides said, if British Prime Minister Tony Blair didn’t want it put to a vote.

Aides said the president has pushed for a U.N. vote thus far out of respect for Blair, whose support of Bush has drawn severe criticism in Britain.

Trouble loomed at every diplomatic turn.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, visiting Bush at the White House, said, “If there is not a resolution, Ireland cannot engage in support of military action, because we work under the U.N. resolution.”

Bush sent a letter to incoming Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vice President Dick Cheney called the leader in hopes of securing permission to invade Iraq through Turkey. Hours later, Navy ships armed with Tomahawk missiles were told to move out of the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, a move that indicates weakening U.S. confidence that Turkey will grant overflight rights for U.S. planes and missiles.

The chief U.N. nuclear inspector urged the Security Council to compromise on proposed disarmament conditions for Iraq, with staggered deadlines and no ultimatum for war.

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