WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell accused Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Wednesday of maneuvering to divide the U.N. Security Council and "split us into arguing factions." He conceded that key differences remain among members on using force.
But Powell declared Saddam's effort would fail. "No nation has been taken in by his transparent tactics," he said in a speech to a foreign-policy group.
Powell, who will travel to the United Nations Thursday, said that Saddam had thrown away his "one last chance" to avoid the "serious consequences" the world body threatened last November for failing to disarm.
Powell spoke just hours after the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia joined forces in vowing to block a U.S.-backed resolution finding Iraq in violation of its obligations and authorizing use of force to disarm Saddam.
But Powell seemed undeterred by the latest development, as did President Bush, who continued to press ahead in attempting to rally support. Powell said that "nobody really knows who has the votes until the votes are taken."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "Don't leap to conclusions about the final vote. You will continue to hear various statements by various people around the world." The administration continued to predict that Bush would prevail.
"There are divisions among us" on the Security Council, Powell acknowledged. "If these divisions continue, they will convince Saddam Hussein that he is right. But I assure you, he is wrong."
Still, Powell faces stiff opposition in his efforts to win the needed nine votes in the 15-member Security Council and to avoid a veto, especially given Wednesday's statements by France and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members.
Powell told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that there has been no evidence that Saddam has made any serious movement to disarm or cooperate with U.N. inspectors.
"Iraq's too-little too-late gestures are meant not just to deceive and delay action by the international community, he has as one of his major goals to divide the international community, to split us into arguing factions. That effort must fail," Powell said.
Powell said the only real issue left is whether Saddam had "made a strategic decision, a political decision, to give up these horrible weapons of mass destruction." He said Saddam had not.
"That's it, in a nutshell," Powell said. "It's not about inspectors, it's not about an inspection regime."
But Powell also held out a remaining hope that the issue could be resolved peacefully. "If Iraq complies and disarms even at this late hour it is possible to avoid war," he said.
Powell spoke shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the man who would command U.S. forces in war told a Pentagon news conference that time was running short for Saddam.
"Saddam Hussein can prevent the use of force," Rumsfeld said. "To do so, he will have to disarm or leave."
Gen. Tommy Franks said, "Our troops in the field are trained, they're ready, they are capable."
Bush met with congressional leaders at breakfast Wednesday, but they left the White House without talking to reporters. Franks brought battle plans to the president shortly after that.
Meantime, government officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that a "shock and awe" strategy for war with Iraq includes plans to drop 10 times the bombs in the opening days than were unleashed in the first days of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., criticized the administration's approach to other nations, saying "this crowd speaks harshly" and that deters potential partners in war with Iraq.
Powell will join with other foreign ministers and ambassadors on Friday in hearing the latest report from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and to lobby for the resolution submitted by the United States, Britain and Spain.
Thursday's trip will be Powell's fourth visit to the United Nations in less than two months. It's another attempt to convince the council that Iraq has violated resolutions for more than 12 years and should be forced to disarm if other methods fail.
Bush talked by telephone to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt while Powell directed his telephone diplomacy toward Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico and also talked to two supporters, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio of Spain and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain.
While U.S. officials are not attempting a head count, a majority of the Security Council appears to prefer extending U.N. weapons inspections.
One option under serious consideration was Bush giving Saddam 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 were under consideration and that they depended on the outcome of the debate in the council.
Among them is Bush's oft-stated option of using force to disarm Iraq with a "coalition of the willing" alongside the United States if the council does not adopt the U.S-British-Spanish resolution.
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