WASHINGTON (AP) – With other nations’ opposition hardening, the White House left open the possibility yesterday that it would not seek a United Nations vote on its war-making resolution if the measure was clearly headed for defeat.
U.S. troop strength in the Persian Gulf neared 300,000, and President Bush and his advisers were looking beyond the diplomatic showdown in the U.N. to make plans for a public relations buildup to potential war with Iraq.
One option under serious consideration was Bush giving Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a final ultimatum, perhaps with a short-term deadline, in an address next week, two senior White House officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that a variety of options are on the table and all depend on the outcome of a U.N. Security Council debate on the U.S.-backed war resolution. In a new blow, Russia’s top diplomat said Moscow may use its veto against the measure.
Even without a veto from Russia, China or France, the United States still doesn’t have the nine votes needed to win approval of the resolution, according to both supporters and opponents. Many undecided council members are looking for a compromise.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with RTL television of Germany, said that early next week U.S. leaders would “make a judgment on whether it’s time to put the resolution up to a vote.”
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “The vote is desirable. It is not necessary.”
Once the vote is resolved one way or another, Bush will intensify his case for war, officials said, barring unforeseen events such as Saddam suddenly disarming or going into exile.
In addition to a possible address, they have discussed a presidential news conference and a Cabinet meeting as ways for Bush to communicate his plans to the nation next week. He may stop short of a specific ultimatum, officials said, but would make it clear that war is imminent in other ways, such as warning journalists and humanitarian workers to get out of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Bush telephoned leaders of India and Egypt to discuss his plans. And officials said Powell had had two telephone conversations and a one-on-one meeting in recent days with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez in his search for Mexican support.
The Army’s oldest armored division, “Old Ironsides,” got its orders to head for the Persian Gulf, and Pentagon officials said U.S. land, sea and air forces were approaching 300,000 in the region.