Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have brought their positions significantly closer on a resolution calling for new weapons inspections in Iraq.
His comments followed a senior U.S. official's statement Thursday that a vote on the resolution will be delayed as Washington revises its draft U.N. resolution to reflect the views of Russia and France without altering the tough provisions demanded by the United States and Britain.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those non-negotiable provisions include declaring Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations under previous U.N. resolutions that ordered Baghdad to destroy its weapons of mass destruction. They also include a warning to President Saddam Hussein that if he fails to get rid of such weapons, Iraq will suffer "serious consequences" - a diplomatic way of threatening war.
Revising the resolution could take a day or two, after which diplomats who have been negotiating at the United Nations for seven weeks would consult their capitals, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
That means consideration of a resolution would spill over into next week, with a vote probably not until midweek or even later, the official said.
The political effect would be that President Bush will be able to hold back on announcing whether he intends to go to war with Iraq - a potentially explosive issue - until after Tuesday's congressional and gubernatorial elections.
Also Thursday, former CBS News Correspondent Walter Cronkite weighed in with his opinion on the possibility of the U.S. taking military action against Iraq either alone or with just one ally.
"I see a great danger if we go it alone or with Great Britain as our only ally," said Cronkite, speaking at an awards ceremony in Phoenix, warning that the result could be an Arab world united against the United States.
The veteran newsman said that could tempt China to take advantage of the situation to strengthen military and economic ties to the Middle East at the expense of the U.S.
Campaigning for GOP candidates Thursday, President Bush said it is the United Nations' job to force Iraq to disarm and if it refuses to act, "we will lead a coalition of nations and disarm Saddam Hussein."
Russia, France and China have opposed the language currently in the U.N. resolution proposed by the U.S. The Security Council members want to ensure that Iraq is given a chance to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors before any military action is authorized.
Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told reporters Friday that Russia continues to insist that the draft resolution give no one the right to use force.
He said Moscow "firmly opposes any formulation that would allow anyone unilaterally to automatically proceed to the use of force."
Ivanov added that "in the last few days we have succeeded in bringing the approaches of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council ... closer."
"We have converged on a whole series of positions," he said, without offering any examples of compromise.
"We insist that in case problems come up with the inspectors' activity and Iraq violates the U.N. Security Council's decisions, this question be returned to the Security Council and be carefully examined there, in order to decide on how to proceed further," Ivanov said.
In an effort to win support, Washington signaled readiness this week to make some minor concessions involving a new weapons inspection regime.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "our bottom line has not changed."
"There needs to be a clear statement of Iraq's failure to comply, there has to be a tough inspection regime and there have to be consequences in the event of new Iraqi violations," Boucher said.
Another U.S. official declined to confirm reports the United States had begun identifying sites in Iraq believed to contain hidden caches of chemical and biological weapons.
But the official said the Bush administration was using all its resources to ensure new inspections would be comprehensive.