PARIS/BAGHDAD - The United States fired a warning shot Tuesday across the bows of France, the leading critic of its Iraq policy, saying it would view any French veto of a new U.N. resolution authorizing force as "very unfriendly."
The U.S. ambassador in Paris issued the warning after France said it and Germany opposed what it called a shift toward "a logic of war" and circulated a rival proposal that would give U.N. weapons inspectors at least four months to scour Iraq.
Even as he spoke, other members of the decision-making U.N. Security Council added their voices to the chorus of skepticism over the resolution, clouding Washington's hopes of winning the nine votes needed to pass it by mid-March.
Russia has backed the French proposal as has fellow veto-wielding China, with some reservations. Beijing said it saw no need for a new resolution and believed diplomatic energies should focus on forcing Baghdad to disarm without war.
"Obviously, all delegations said they will study the draft, which also has a rather rambling preamble," Russia's U.N. envoy Sergei Lavrov told Russian television.
"But few share the conclusion contained in this resolution -- that Iraq has wasted its chance. Most importantly, that conclusion does not stem from the assessments repeatedly presented to the Security Council by the inspectors themselves."
Syria, the only Arab country on the 15-member council, said it would vote against while Angola, Cameroon and Pakistan said they had yet to decide what to do.
Pakistan, which faces unrest from Islamic militants if it votes for war against Iraq, may abstain, diplomats said.
Washington, London and Madrid submitted the draft resolution to the polarized council Monday. It declared that Iraq had squandered its "final opportunity" to disarm.
TWO WEEKS TO CONCENTRATE MINDS
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the resolution would not be put up for a vote for around two weeks, to allow time to "concentrate the minds" of Security Council members and offer Iraq a last chance to comply.
The U.S. ambassador in Paris, Howard Leach, said he hoped France would agree the United Nations had to take action.
"I hope there won't be a veto because a veto would be very unfriendly and we would not look favorably on that," he told LCI television, according to a French translation of his remarks in English.
No vote is expected until after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the council again, probably on March 7, at a meeting expected to be attended by foreign ministers.
A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said a planned report by its head had been advanced a month to coincide with Blix's report.
In a boost for Washington, Ankara, which has dragged its feet for weeks on an urgent U.S. request to set up a "northern front" from Turkey against Iraq, said a motion on allowing U.S. troops to deploy could be presented to parliament within hours.
But Turkey's deputy prime minister said it was unlikely parliament would discuss the motion before Wednesday.
Saddam's top scientific adviser said Iraq was still considering a U.N. order to destroy its al-Samoud missiles by March 1, despite a U.S. television report the Iraqi leader had indicated he would keep the weapons.
"It is still under consideration," General Amer al-Saadi told reporters when asked about the U.N. demand to destroy the missiles which the U.N. says have a longer than permitted range.
The White House had said the case for war had been strengthened by the comments which CBS television said had been made in a rare interview it had with Saddam.
"Iraq is allowed to prepare proper missiles and we are committed to that," Saddam was quoted as saying. "We do not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range."
CONCESSIONS "DRIBBLE" FROM IRAQ -- BRITAIN
Straw said Saddam appeared to be behaving true to form. "This is absolutely typical of the way Saddam behaves," he said. "What he does is dribble out concessions, first of all refusing inspections and then in the light of pressure accepting them."
President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, pledged Monday that the United States would try to turn around war opponents France, Russia and China.
"We and the British and the Spanish and the others will have an all-out diplomatic effort to talk to various parties about the logic of this resolution and hopefully to bring people around to vote for it," she told reporters in Washington.
She said the United States wanted a decision from the Security Council one way or the other in the days immediately after Blix's March 7 report.
The crucial votes now belong to Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Pakistan, Mexico and Chile. All had favored the French position of more inspections but now are studiously neutral as U.S. and other officials approach their leaders.
To the frustration of U.S. officials, neighbor Mexico is proving the most difficult to persuade, with a visit by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar last week yielding no results.
Tuesday, Blix completes two days of talks with his 16-member advisory board, called a College of Commissioners.
He has given them 30 to 40 "clusters" of "unresolved disarmament questions" and asked the commissioners to place them in order of priority.
Canada would like the council to turn those into "benchmarks" Iraq should complete by mid-March or April.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd