LONDON - Under intense political pressure to secure a new United Nations resolution before leading his country into war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair affirmed yesterday his willingness to fight alongside the United States and proposed tough new conditions that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would have to fulfill immediately or face war within days.
Blair's proposal, an attempt to persuade a reluctant United Nations to line up behind Britain and the United States, contains six tests for Hussein, including a requirement that he admit to his country, in Arabic and on Iraqi television, that he has been hiding weapons of mass destruction.
The new resolution, drafted by Britain and the United States for submission to the U.N. Security Council, delays the deadline for disarmament from Monday, which was suggested last week, for "days, but not weeks or months," and authorizes war if Hussein fails to comply.
U.S. officials hinted that new diplomatic efforts were putting them closer to getting the minimum of nine votes required for approval of the resolution.
"I wouldn't deny we are making progress, but I wouldn't lead you to believe we've got it in the bag," Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington.
He said the president was working the phones - speaking with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, among others - to line up support for an acceptable resolution that would authorize war.
"The president is going the last mile for diplomacy," Fleischer said. "We shall see if the other nations on the Security Council are willing to entertain that last mile."
But he indicated Bush's patience was running thin: "The president has given diplomacy a certain amount of time. He will not give it forever."
Both Britain and the United States say they believe U.N. Resolution 1441, which was passed by the Security Council in November and warned of "serious consequences" if Hussein did not disarm, gives them authority to wage war against Iraq.
Blair, though, has been in desperate search of a compromise to win a second resolution to help him politically at home, where public opinion has been mounting to pull out of a military campaign in the absence of U.N. consent.
While battling for the resolution, the prime minister has also been fighting to keep control of his Labor Party, which is deeply divided on the war.
Blair's task was made more difficult by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said Tuesday that Britain's role was "unclear," implying the United States was prepared to go to war without its ally.
The defense secretary later "clarified" his comments to say he expected British troops to fight beside their U.S. counterparts, but the anti-war faction of Blair's Labor Party seized on the original remarks as evidence that Britain is not needed in a war with Iraq and that the prime minister should take the "out" Rumsfeld provided.
Nearly all of Britain's national newspapers ignored Rumsfeld's clarification and ran front-page headlines yesterday declaring a divide between the United States and its closest ally.
"Blair crisis over U.S. rift," said the Evening Standard. "U.S. is ready to launch war without Britain," said the Daily Telegraph. "Blair staring at disaster as U.N. refuses to back war and Bush says he may attack without him," joined the Daily Mirror.
"If this was Donald Rumsfeld trying to help Tony Blair, he had better not consider a career in the diplomatic service," wrote Nick Assinder, political correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corp. "With one brief comment he has managed to blow a series of massive holes in the prime minister's armour."
But while fielding questions yesterday in the House of Commons, Blair made clear that his willingness to go to war has not been diminished by threats to his political career and that, regardless of Rumsfeld's view, he is committed to disarming Iraq by force if necessary. Britain has about 40,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region.
"What is at stake here is not whether the United States goes alone or not," he said. "It is whether the international community is prepared to back up the clear instruction it gave to Saddam Hussein with the necessary action. That is why I am committed to hold firm to the course we have set out."
France and Russia have threatened to veto any resolution authorizing war, but Blair's new proposal, which could be voted on today, appeared aimed at securing at least nine votes in the Security Council, the number necessary to pass a resolution.
The resolution could then be vetoed, but Blair has said repeatedly that he would go to war if deprived of a second resolution by "unreasonable" use of the veto.
Over the past two days, he has made it clear he would define a veto in just such a way, arguing that France's threats to kill a second resolution "whatever the circumstances" is "letting Saddam off the hook."
"I hope even now those countries that are saying they would use their veto no matter what the circumstances will reconsider and realize that by doing so they risk not just the disarmament of Saddam but the unity of the United Nations," Blair said.
In addition to the demand for a televised acknowledgment of his weapons and agreement to relinquish them, Blair's proposal calls for a commitment to allow 30 Iraqi scientists to be interviewed outside Iraq; the surrender of anthrax and other chemical and biological weapons or documentation that they have been destroyed; an account of production facilities for biological weapons; an account of drone aircraft; and the destruction of banned missiles.
Aside from the United States and Britain, only Bulgaria and Spain have committed publicly to a second resolution authorizing war; Russia, France, China, Germany and Syria have spoken against such a resolution.
The six undecided members of the council - Mexico, Chile, Cameroon, Angola, Guinea and Pakistan - offered a plan Tuesday that would have given Iraq 45 days to disarm. The United States and Britain rejected the proposal, saying it eased pressure on Hussein.
"The idea that we can leave British and American troops down there for months on an indefinite time scale without insisting clearly that Saddam disarms, that would send not just a message out to Saddam but a message of weakness right across the world," Blair said.
The prime minister has been under enormous political pressure and in recent days the wear has shown. He has appeared drawn and tired; his usual precise speaking style has lately been tentative, peppered with half-starts and stutters.
Yesterday, though, he was forceful and spoke assuredly, pounding the lectern in front of him as he warned members of Parliament that to allow Hussein to "play games" would render future warnings to "tyrants and dictators" hollow.
"What we are looking at is whether we can set out a very clear set of tests for Iraq to meet in order to demonstrate that it is in full compliance," Blair said. "We have a chance even now of avoiding conflict, but what we must show is determination to act if Saddam does not fully comply."
British newspapers, commentators and politicians have spoken openly that leading an unwilling nation into war could cost Blair his job.
A poll published this week in the Times newspaper indicated 19 percent of Britons would support a war without a U.N. resolution. With a second resolution, 52 percent would be in favor.
Yesterday, union leaders urged their members - the public base of the Labor Party - to begin a campaign of civil disobedience, blocking roads and running anti-war candidates in local elections in May against any politician supporting Blair.
Blair's stance has also angered a substantial number of Parliament members of his Labor Party, which has a strong tradition of pacifism. Last weekend, Clare Short, the international development secretary, said she would resign from Blair's Cabinet if Britain attacked without a second resolution, and several lower-tier members of his government have threatened the same.
Yesterday, Graham Allen, a Labor member of the House of Commons, said he was disappointed that the prime minister had not taken advantage of Rumsfeld's remarks.
"The cat is out of the bag. They can do it without us and give Tony Blair the chance to get out of the hole if he wishes," said Allen, one of a large bloc of war opponents in Blair's Labor Party.
In another sign of the importance nations are placing on a new resolution, the foreign relations head of the 15-member European Union said in France yesterday that it might withhold money for the reconstruction of Iraq if the United States goes to war without U.N. approval.
"It will be that much more difficult for the E.U. to cooperate fully and on a large scale - also in the longer-term reconstruction process - if events unfold without proper U.N. cover and if the member states remain divided," Chris Patten, the union's external relations director, said during a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, according to the Associated Press.