UNITED NATIONS -- France, Germany, Russia and China have made it clear they will not be rushed by Washington's timetable for war against Iraq, despite threats by the White House to move against Saddam Hussein without their approval.
Despite U.S. efforts to convince the world that Iraq is failing to cooperate with inspectors looking for banned weapons of mass destruction, many U.N. Security Council members believe just the opposite - that the inspections are starting to work and Iraq can be disarmed peacefully.
"The real situation shows that inspections are going on and so the resolution is being implemented," Russian Deputy Ambassador Gennady Gatilov said, referring to Resolution 1441 that created a tough new inspections regime. "There are some problems which are solvable and yesterday the Iraqis expressed their goodwill for further cooperation with the inspectors. I think the sense of the council is that the majority is against military action."
Britain, America's closest ally, is the only major military power virtually certain to join the United States, having called up 26,000 soldiers for duty in the Persian Gulf. Other countries with smaller armies, such as Australia, Canada and Bulgaria, could provide supporting military roles in a coalition of the willing. But traditional allies such as France, which fought alongside U.S. troops in the 1991 Gulf War, as well as in Kosovo and Afghanistan, are unlikely to join any military conflict at this stage.
For Washington and London, Iraq's pledge Monday to cooperate more closely with inspectors only strengthened their claims that Baghdad isn't complying. Both countries plan to push that message after inspectors present a report Jan. 27 assessing Iraq's cooperation after two months of inspections looking for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
If the council judges Iraq's cooperation to be poor, that could set the stage for war. But it seems increasingly unlikely that a majority of the council would vote that way. France hinted this week that it might use its veto to block any authorization for war.
"We see no justification right now for any military action," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday delivered his clearest statement yet on how Germany would vote on a new resolution, suggesting that his government would vote against or abstain.
"Don't expect Germany to approve a resolution legitimizing war, don't expect it," he said.
In Washington, President Bush responded with impatience. "Surely our friends have learned lessons from the past," he said.
Saddam has "been given ample time to disarm. This business about more time. How much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming?"
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States could go to war with a select group of allies, even without Security Council approval. But he declined to name countries that have allegedly pledged their support.
Several U.N. diplomats said privately they resent the U.S. approach.
"The Americans came here saying that if we don't buy their line then they're going ahead anyway and people are feeling very snubbed by that attitude," one Western diplomat said. "And so the response is that we're not going to give Washington the blank check that they're looking for."
Others cited anti-war demonstrations around the United States over the weekend and recent opinion polls showing that most Americans want the United States to take more time seeking a peaceful solution in Iraq.
Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, has long been considered a natural supporter of any U.S.-led military intervention. But on Tuesday, Turkey announced it will host a meeting of regional foreign ministers to discuss the deep reservations that Iraq's neighbors have in supporting a U.S.-led war.
A regional meeting would be a chance for Iraq's neighbors to show Saddam that he is surrounded and has no choice but to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. It is also an opportunity for countries like Turkey, a key U.S. ally, to show Washington that Iraq's neighbors can only support a war if all other options are exhausted.
"A storm is coming, a fire is raging toward our countries," Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said. "Let's do what is possible to stop it."
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