President Bush courted the leaders of France and China on Friday in an uphill struggle to win U.N. backing for war with Iraq.
"The U.N. Security Council has got to make up its mind soon as to whether or not its word means anything," he said.
A majority of the 15 Council members are in favor of relying on U.N. weapons inspectors to try to disarm President Saddam Hussein. But Mr. Bush said, "If he wanted to disarm he would have disarmed."
"This is a defining moment for the U.N. Security Council," Mr. Bush said. "If the Security Council were to allow a dictator to lie and deceive, the Security Council will be weak."
But France's ambassador to the United States, while also calling Saddam a dictator, said 10 or 11 of the 15 members of the Council want to extend inspections rather than use force.
"Let's have the inspectors do their job," Jean-David Levitte said at the United States Institute of Peace. "Saddam is in his box and the box is now closed with the inspections."
France, which has the power to kill any U.N. resolution with a veto, is leaving open the use of force as an ultimate option, Levitte said, and will not decide on a position until after weapons inspectors report to the Council Feb. 14.
Russia said it, too, opposes authorizing war and wants inspections to go on.
"We do not see today any grounds for passing a U.N. resolution that would envisage or sanction the use of force against Iraq,"' said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, whose country also has Security Council veto power.
Mr. Bush used telephone diplomacy Friday to try to shorten the odds against Council approval of a war resolution.
He called French President Jacques Chirac and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. He told Jiang that "time was of the essence in dealing with Iraq" and that "the credibility of the United Nations was at stake," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
In Paris, Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna, said he had told Mr. Bush "we can disarm Saddam Hussein without going to war."
Disarming Iraq is a common objective, but Chirac "also reiterated his conviction that there is an alternative to war that can achieve that," she said.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin reiterated as much to Mr. Bush in a telephone call earlier Friday, stressing the need for continued inspections, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
Arab reservations about war with Iraq were reflected in remarks by Osama el-Baz, longtime adviser to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a private research group.
He said Arab support for any war against Iraq was contingent on the United States securing international backing and exhausting all other options to change rule in Baghdad.
"You have to make your case clear that you have exerted maximum pressure to get it resolved peacefully, and you have left no stone unturned," the Egyptian official said.
Mr. Bush intends to step up his campaign to persuade the allies and also a somewhat skeptical American public.
Powell will appear on three television networks this weekend, and other TV outlets agreed to have on Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser.
Mr. Bush will meet at the White House on Monday with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, a likely ally in the event of a war.
Administration officials are likening the American diplomatic effort to a political campaign.
With all roads seemingly leading toward war, an increasingly desperate Iraqi regime is making concessions it has previously refused to make and is trying even harder to convince a skeptical world it is not working on forbidden weapons, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips.
In Baghdad, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, said an unprecedented private interview Thursday with an Iraqi scientist was a sign of hope for talks this weekend in Iraq. But he said many more such steps were necessary.
"We need to make quick progress because time is critical, because the inspection is an alternative to war and not a prelude to it," ElBaradei said in Cyprus en route to Baghdad.
The White House dismissed the importance of the Iraqi overtures, saying Friday that the scientist interviewed by inspectors actually worked for the Iraqi monitoring directorate. "The only one they're interviewing without a minder is a minder," McClellan said.
Later, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said three more scientists gave private interviews to weapons inspectors Friday. U.N. officials could not be reached for immediate comment on the report.
Also in Iraq, government officials took foreign journalists to missile assembly and test sites to convey the message the installations had been under U.N. scrutiny for months.
"We've shown all kinds of cooperation with the inspectors, who have come several times," said Ali Jassim, manager of the al-Rafah missile engine test installation, in scrublands 25 miles southwest of Baghdad. "They found no problem with it."
In Washington, a senior U.S. official dismissed the press tour. He said Powell had made the point that Iraq hides what it is doing, making it difficult for even experienced monitors to detect illicit activity.