LONDON (AP) – The United States’ drive to disarm Iraq by force hit mounting global opposition yesterday, with Russia warning that military action without U.N. consent would be a “grave error” and China backing calls to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time.

With the world’s other big powers lining up against Washington, the NATO alliance was in disarray, failing for a second day to support a U.S.-backed proposal to begin military planning for a conflict with Iraq.

The showdown comes just days before chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei report Friday to the U.N. Security Council, where the United States hopes to get approval for tough action against Baghdad. President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, met Blix yesterday to discuss the inspection process in Iraq, a senior U.S. official said.

Russia and China, which both have veto power on the Security Council, could eventually mute their opposition to military action against Iraq if they conclude war is inevitable. Neither Moscow nor Beijing is eager to risk a major breech with Washington, whose support and trade they both need.

But the vocal opposition to U.S. plans reflects growing concern about unbridled American power in the 21st century, and the flurry of diplomatic activity in Paris and other capitals was as much an attempt to curb Washington’s dominance as save Iraq.

If the United Nations does not authorize military action against Iraq, the United States reserves the right to take action along with a handful of key allies such as Britain. But a U.S. decision to flout the will of other major powers could severely strain the post-Cold War structure of global politics.

“I am convinced that it would be a grave error to be drawn into unilateral action, outside of international law,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told France’s TF1 television yesterday.

Putin said he saw no need at present for Russia to use its veto as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. But asked if Russia would support France if it uses its veto, Putin said: “If today a proposition was made that we felt would lead to an unreasonable use of force, we would act with France or alone.”

Chinese President Jiang Zemin told French President Jacques Chirac during a phone conversation that U.N. inspections were working and it was vital to avoid war.

“The inspection in Iraq is effective and should be continued and strengthened,” the Chinese government’s news agency Xinhua quoted Jiang as saying. “Warfare is good for no one, and it is our responsibility to take various measures to avoid war.”

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