WASHINGTON -- President Bush's meeting today with Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain is shaping up as more a symbol of determination than an 11th-hour quest for a diplomatic miracle.
Needing a minimum of nine votes in the U.N. Security Council this week for their resolution to back force to disarm Iraq they have the sure support only of Bulgaria.
Three African countries, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea, and also Pakistan have stirred hopes within the administration that they could be counted on as well.
That leaves Chile and Mexico as the prime targets of U.S. and British diplomacy. But even if nine votes were rounded up, France stands in the wings wielding a veto that would kill the resolution.
A senior U.S. official acknowledged on Saturday that the chances of rounding up enough votes were dim. But he said the leaders' gathering would remind the world -- and particularly France -- that the United States, Britain and Spain head a coalition ready to act soon against Iraq.
France's actions have eased the pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the three allies intended to try to reapply it in a strong statement after their summit, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
France and its two allies in the anti-war bloc, Russia and Germany, said in a joint declaration that there was no justification to use force and to stop weapons inspections.
They called for a foreign ministers' meeting Tuesday to discuss a "realistic" timetable for Saddam to disarm.
Words vs. convictions
In another attempt to frame war with Iraq as a test of moral courage, Bush in his weekly radio address on Saturday said "governments are now showing whether their stated commitments to liberty and security are words alone -- or convictions they are prepared to act upon."
Bush, who spent the day at Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, spoke by telephone to Blair and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred by telephone with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.
The reaction of the president and his senior advisers to anti-war sentiment, and to expressions of anti-Americanism, has been that the United States must do what is right, and that its judgment will be validated when Saddam is ousted and Iraqis are under democratic rule.
Weeks of tendered compromises and extended deadlines have not paid off for the administration. They only have contributed to an impression of waffling and given anti-war forces in Britain more time to attack Blair.
Despite voluminous evidence presented by Powell that Iraq has hidden vast quantities of dangerous weapons and lied about it, the prevailing sentiment on the council is to extend U.N. weapons searches and defer war.
Vote possible this week
There may be a vote this week, or Bush, Blair and Aznar may conclude at their meeting in the Azores to withdraw the resolution -- either because they lack nine votes or because it would deny France the opportunity to cast a veto.
The administration has used more than the power of persuasion to try to get skeptical nations to go along with war with Iraq.
On Friday, Bush cleared the way for Pakistan to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid blocked after a military coup in 1999 brought Gen. Pervez Musharraf to power. He is still president and Bush wants him on his side on Iraq.
In an unexpected development, Bush on Friday declared it was time to move ahead on a Palestinian state even though Yasser Arafat has not been removed from power, as the president demanded last year, and Palestinian terrorists still strike at Israel.
Bush acted at the behest of Arab and European nations eager to have the United States pressure Israel to turn over land it has held for 35 years to Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
A decision to withdraw the resolution also would mark a reversal. At a news conference March 6, Bush said he was prepared for a vote, win or lose.
Today, Bush was making what his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, calls "a last push to see if we can convince people to take on their responsibilities."
Soon afterward, possibly on the flight back to Washington that night, the president will again recalculate his chances of success at the United Nations and perhaps decide whether to pull the plug.