WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell held out hope yesterday that the U.N. Security Council, allies across the globe and the American public would come to support an American-led war with Iraq, as the United States pressed for an ultimatum giving Saddam Hussein until March 17 to prove he has disarmed.

Powell said he was within “striking distance” of the necessary nine votes to win a majority on the 15-member council. But he conceded on “Fox News Sunday” that the French appeared set to “do everything they can to stop it” by using their veto. Such a veto, he warned, would “have a serious effect on bilateral relations, at least in the short term.”

He said it remained unclear where two other veto-bearing nations, Russia and China, stood on a vote that could take place as early as tomorrow.

Nevertheless, Powell said he was leading intensive efforts over the weekend to win over several other governments, hoping to muster the nine necessary votes.

He said U.N. inspectors should have focused more public attention on Iraqi shortcomings contained in a 173-page report circulated among Security Council members and that the United States would be making more details from it public in the days to come.

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported in today’s editions that, according to American officials, the inspectors recently discovered a new variety of rocket apparently intended to strew bomblets filled with chemical or biological agents over large areas. Powell did not refer to cluster bombs in his TV appearances, but noted that the U.N. report discusses the possibility of Iraq having drone aircraft that would violate weapons restrictions.

The paper, which said it had been provided a copy of the inspectors’ report, said it referred to videotapes showing “personnel conducting tests of a cluster bomb that appears to utilize submunitions based, in part, on 122-millimeter warhead components.”

The foreign minister of Guinea, a Security Council member, will visit administration officials this week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on ABC’s “This Week.” Asked whether the administration was trying to entice potential backers with promises of financial aid, as it sought to do with Turkey, Rice said, “We’re talking to people about their interests.”

Rice refused to say which nations the United States is counting on for supportive votes.

Powell and Rice took to the airwaves in a series of news interviews yesterday amid a tide of opposition to war from foreign leaders and their constituents, and from many Americans. Police arrested five anti-war protesters outside the ABC studios in Washington where Rice was interviewed, and several demonstrators followed her to the CBS offices where she was interviewed by “Face the Nation.”

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