A Security Council meeting on Iraq ended in bitter dispute Thursday with council members unable to agree on basic issues such as a timetable for weapons inspectors to report next to the council.
Diplomats described a terrible atmosphere within the council, which met behind closed doors for four hours.
The council is split between those who are supporting the Bush administration's calls for the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein, and others, led by the French, who want to continue weapons inspections.
At the end of the session, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the majority of the council still opposed a U.S.-backed resolution and he pushed the French proposal for additional time for inspections.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte didn't speak with reporters although Washington's quest for support on its resolution appeared to be picking up steam with several undecided council members.
Still, ambassadors who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Americans seemed unwilling to compromise in order to achieve council unity on Iraq.
"This was one of the most depressing meetings I've seen," said one ambassador.
Another described the atmosphere as "bitter and unpleasant."
Ambassadors said there was little actual discussion about the merits of the U.S. resolution, which is backed by Britain and Spain, or the French proposal. And they couldn't agree on when the chief inspectors should next report to the council or how they should proceed with their work in the meantime.
Also Thursday, the top deputy of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix flew to Baghdad as Iraq faced a weekend deadline for complying with the U.N.-ordered destruction of its Al Samoud 2 missiles.
Blix has ordered Baghdad to begin destroying the missiles because they exceed the 93-mile-range limit set by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War. Demetrius Perricos, Blix's deputy, was to discuss "the pace of the destruction" of the missiles, Blix said.
Dismantling the missiles has become a litmus test of Iraq's willingness to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441, which required Baghdad to rid itself of all weapons of mass destruction banned under previous resolutions imposed after it invaded Kuwait in 1990, prompting the U.S.-led Gulf War the next year.
Egypt's news agency said Iraq would announce later Thursday that it would comply with the U.N. order, which says Iraq must begin destroying the missiles by the weekend. There was no comment from the Iraqi government, but the Middle East News Agency quoted unidentified sources in Baghdad as saying the step was intended to deprive Washington of a pretext for war.
Iraqi officials told CBS News last week that they would eventually agree to the destruction of the missiles — probably at the last minute.
But that move would not satisfy the White House, which again Thursday labeled the Al Samouds the tip of an iceberg of illegal weapons, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
"You see, he'll say, 'I'm not going to destroy the rockets,' and then he'll have a change of mind this weekend and destroy the rockets and say, 'I've disarmed,'" President Bush said.
Mr. Bush said Wednesday that while the Iraqi regime still has time to avoid war, U.S. troops are ready for battle. He called on allies for their support.
"The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away," Mr. Bush said in Washington.
There was some evidence that Mr. Bush was gaining ground for military action, including signals that Mexico had changed its strong anti-war stance and was now preparing to back the U.S.-driven resolution.
Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was in Pakistan Thursday to lobby for its vote, which could fall in the U.S. column.
But there were also signs that some undecided council countries, such as Chile, were pushing for a Canadian plan aimed at reconciling bitter differences between the U.S. plan and the French-led proposal.
Washington on Wednesday rejected the Canadian ideas, which were aimed at giving Iraq until the end of March to complete a list of disarmament tasks that inspectors are compiling.
The United States still faces an uphill struggle to win the nine "yes" votes and avoid a veto by France, China or Russia. So far Washington is assured of British, Spanish and Bulgarian support and will now likely get Mexico's vote.
In somewhat positive signs for the United States, Russia pledged to work with the United States, and France reiterated the pledge it has consistently made to join a war against Iraq if Paris were convinced Saddam was not disarming.
The administration may have won new ammunition for its position from Blix. He said Wednesday, shortly before submitting a quarterly update on his team's work, that Baghdad has not taken "a fundamental decision" to disarm.
However, South African weapons experts touring Iraq reported that the country is making genuine efforts to disarm and asked the council to give them more time.
The Security Council is not the only challenge facing the United States and its allies.
In Turkey, the ruling Islamic party put off a scheduled vote on U.S. troop deployments until Saturday. U.S. officials, who have been negotiating a multibillion-dollar economic aid package for Turkey, have already expressed frustration at repeated delays in securing Ankara's cooperation.
Meanwhile, Iraq has begun preparing for war in earnest: deploying police around key installations in Baghdad, and moving elite troops from northern areas back toward the capital city.
In an exclusive interview with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather, Saddam said Iraq was bracing for a U.S.-led attack. "It is our duty, it is our responsibility to defend our country, to defend our children, to defend our people, and we are not going to succumb, neither to the United States nor to any other power," Saddam said.