UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Iraq's destruction of missiles a "positive development" and said that war must be a last resort as Bush administration officials suggested that the United States might abandon its efforts for a second resolution if it cannot muster enough Security Council support for war.
A vote on the resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, could come as early as next week and possibly March 13 - six months since President Bush sought international backing at the United Nations for the disarmament of Iraq.
But several members of the 15-member Security Council argue that time has not run out on U.N. inspections.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview with German television, said that early next week U.S. officials would "make a judgment on whether it's time to put the resolution up to a vote."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The vote is desirable. It is not necessary."
The comments came as opposition to the U.S.-backed resolution appeared to be strengthening. The number of U.S. forces en route or within striking distance of Iraq is approaching 300,000, and the Bush administration has insisted for months that it would disarm Iraq with or without U.N. support.
At U.N. headquarters, Annan emphasized that force should be used only "when possibilities of peaceful settlement have been exhausted."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow was ready to use its veto.
"If the situation so demands, Russia will, of course, use its right of veto - as an extreme measure - to avoid the worst development of the situation," he said, adding that an abstention would be "unlikely."
In closed-door meetings at the United Nations, France, backed by China, Russia and Germany, continued to push for a continuation of the inspection process at least through July 1.
China made its opposition to the use of force clear yesterday when President Jiang Zemin urged continued U.N.-based efforts to use "every possible method to avoid war."
At the same time, council members continued pondering a Canadian compromise proposal that would ask Iraq to complete a series of disarmament tasks by the end of the month.
U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte repeated the U.S. claim that, after 12 years of disarmament demands from the United Nations, Iraq isn't likely to comply no matter how many inspections occur. "We think that it is time for the council to face that decision - that is, to decide that Iraq is not in compliance and has not taken advantage of that final opportunity," he said.
When asked whether the United States and its allies would withdraw its resolution if unsure of getting the nine needed votes in the Security Council, Negroponte said, "We are not facing that kind of situation. We will cross that bridge if and when we come to it, but we don't think we should have to come to that point."
Several Security Council members including Angola, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan remain on the fence.
The Bush administration continued to act as if war was imminent, with Gen. Tommy Franks - who would lead the campaign against Iraq - headed to Washington for two days of meetings with administration officials.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, told reporters that capturing or killing Saddam Hussein would not necessarily indicate success.
The goal is to disarm Iraq of chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems, Myers said. "The ultimate objective," Myers added, "is not Saddam Hussein."
A number of scenarios could develop, Myers said. "If the leadership was isolated and not effective in governing the country, you know, that would be victory," he said.
At the White House, Fleischer said that if force is used against Iraq, "you can assume that we will not carve out a safety zone for Saddam Hussein."
Annan said he hoped the Security Council could come to a consensus after hearing Friday's progress report from U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.
"I think the council's decision will be based on the totality of the presentation by the inspectors," Annan said. "The council has the right to declare a further military breach at any time based on the reports of the inspectors."
Bush said again yesterday that the United Nations has a responsibility to act or it faces becoming irrelevant.
But Annan took issue with that charge.
"The U.N. is much, much larger than the Iraqi crisis," he said.