UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- In a dramatic showdown, major powers rebuffed the United States in the Security Council and insisted on more time for weapons inspections after top U.N. inspectors failed to give Washington the ammunition it needs to galvanize support for military action.
A visibly exasperated Secretary of State Colin Powell, setting aside his prepared remarks, warned that the world should not be taken in by "tricks that are being played on us." But only Spain and Britain spoke up for the U.S. position Friday in the 15-member council, and even British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held out hope for a peaceful solution if Iraq dramatically accelerates its cooperation.
The day belonged to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose impassioned speech seeking more time for inspections elicited rare and loud applause from diplomats in the chamber. By contrast, ambassadors and dignitaries greeted Powell's remarks with silence.
De Villepin told The Associated Press afterward that France wouldn't support a U.N. resolution authorizing war. China and Russia, also with the power to veto resolutions, pressed for more inspections and threw their support behind France.
The presentations by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei were far more measured than the harsh assessments of Iraq they issued two weeks ago to the council. As Powell listened and scribbled notes at his seat across the horseshoe-shaped table, Blix even cast doubt on some of the U.S. intelligence the secretary of state shared one week ago with the council.
Washington and London had hoped for tougher reports that would help them push through a new resolution quickly, and there had even been talk of a council meeting today to introduce it. But their plans were put on hold Friday, and British diplomats privately conceded they no longer knew when and how they would be able to circulate a draft.
Considering the strong anti-war response in the council, it appeared highly unlikely that the United States could muster the nine votes needed to authorize war now.
The United States and Britain say they are willing to go to war without U.N. backing but would prefer to have it. U.N. backing is particularly important for the British government, which faces strong public opposition to a war.
Powell said he would return to Washington and consult with President Bush and others and make a decision "in the not too distant future" about a new resolution. Later, in an interview with CNN, he said the Iraq issue would be decided within "weeks."
The differences between the council powers were so serious that a planned meeting of the five veto-holding members was canceled. De Villepin caught the United States by surprise when he called for another ministerial-level council meeting on March 14.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the mid-March proposal would push back the possibility of war, but Powell said it was too early to schedule such a meeting. U.S. officials noted that another report from Blix is due March 1.
Powell sat silently as speaker after speaker rejected the United States' position that Iraq has run out of time to comply with a string of U.N. disarmament resolutions.
"More inspections -- I am sorry -- are not the answer," Powell told the council when it was his turn to speak.
Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, the final speaker, stressed to council members his country's commitment to full cooperation and "the path of peace."
"The French speech and the reaction was extraordinary," he later told the AP. "I have been worried, but today I am a little calmer."
Saddam issues ban
Hours before the U.N. presentations, Saddam Hussein decreed a ban on all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, a longtime U.N. demand. The White House scoffed at the announcement, but inspectors welcomed it.
In his report, Blix cited improved cooperation by Saddam's government and reported that the hunt for banned arms had thus far failed to find weapons of mass destruction. Blix said it was significant that "many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for."
He also noted that a new Iraqi missile system had a range exceeding the permitted limits and chastised Iraq for not giving a full accounting of chemical and biological weapons programs.
ElBaradei, the nuclear chief, told the council his inspectors found no evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program and said inspectors could do their job without Iraq's full cooperation.
He later told CNN that he needs six more months of inspections, which resumed in November after a four-year break.
The inspectors' reports were strong fodder for council members opposed to war. Anti-war protests were planned for around the world today.
"Only when we go along the line of political settlement can we truly live up to the trust and hope the international community places in the Security Council," Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said.
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