IRAQ A vote for war is a U.S. priority

The majority of the U.N. Security Council remains wary of the U.S. position.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United States plans to push for a vote next week on its resolution authorizing war in Iraq even as some U.N. Security Council members are seeking a compromise that could delay any military action.
Despite intensive lobbying at the United Nations and in capitals around the world, the United States still hasn't found the nine council votes it needs to get its resolution adopted.
Still, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Monday the United States expects a vote "quite soon" after top weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei report Friday on Iraqi compliance.
"Our view is that we don't need to debate this very simple and straightforward resolution," Negroponte said.
Estimated time
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said "all indications are that the vote would be next week." As one of the sponsors of the resolution, along with Britain and Spain, the United States can call for a vote at any time.
Most council diplomats predicted a vote for March 13, six months after President Bush went to the United Nations seeking international support for the disarmament of Iraq.
The president's call to action on Sept. 12 was quickly followed by an Iraqi decision to allow weapons inspectors to return after nearly four years. It also spurred the council to adopt unanimously a U.S.-drafted resolution in November that called on Iraq to disarm and cooperate with inspectors.
The United States, Britain and Spain believe Iraq failed the tests laid out in that resolution. Their new proposed resolution would give them Security Council authorization to disarm Iraq through force.
Seeking alternatives
But the majority of the council is wary of the U.S.-driven position, and two separate groups are searching for alternatives to war.
France, backed by Russia, Germany and China, has suggested beefing up the inspections regime and extending its work at least through July 1.
"War can and should be avoided," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said, echoing the wording of the joint statement issued during Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's visit to Beijing.
However, Kong added, "Iraq should implement the U.N. resolutions strictly, fully and conscientiously. It should not possess weapons of mass destruction."
Chile and other Security Council members spent several hours late Monday listening to a Canadian compromise proposal that would set a series of benchmarks Iraq would have to meet by the end of the month, when the council would then decide whether Iraq had complied.
Cristian Maquieira, the deputy Chilean ambassador, said Canada's proposal was "a positive step, but we are far still from getting a document." The Canadian ideas were rejected by Washington last week.
Prepared to fight
U.S. officials have said they would be open to suggestions on their resolution but would not negotiate the substance of it. If the council rejects the U.S.-backed draft, Bush has said he is prepared to fight with a coalition of willing nations.
Still, the United States continued to lobby for support from a half dozen undecided council members, including Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan.
"Every single day we are in touch with every single Security Council member, either in capitals or in New York," the U.S. official said.
Several undecided states said they would make up their minds after the chief inspectors brief the council Friday. In the meantime, Iraq continued to destroy its stockpile of Al Samoud 2 missiles, a move welcomed by Russia, France and Mexico as evidence that inspections are working. Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Zinser, called it "very good news."
The missiles were ordered destroyed by U.N. inspectors after an international panel of experts determined that the Al Samoud exceeded a 93-mile range limit set by the Security Council at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
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