Even though the United States has the votes to pass a U.N. resolution authorizing military force to drive Iraq from Kuwait, Secretary of State James A. Baker III lobbied for it up to the last minute.
The resolution, expected to pass overwhelmingly this afternoon, would authorize an attack if Iraqi troops do not withdraw by Jan. 15, diplomats say.The only other time the Security Council has sanctioned force to counter aggression was during the Korean War.
Baker was presiding over Thursday's meeting.
On Wednesday night, he met with Cuba's foreign minister, Isidoro Malmierca, then with China's top envoy, Qian Qichen.
Both countries have said they would not vote in favor of the measure, although U.S. officials say China was not expected to exercise the veto power it wields as one of five permanent Security Council members.
Baker's talk with Malmierca was the first formal U.S.-Cuban meeting in more than 30 years. The two countries still lack formal relations.
On Thursday Iraq renewed its bitter criticism of the proposed resolution, which the ruling party newspaper called a "declaration of war."
President Saddam Hussein accused the United States of pushing the United Nations into using "double standards" - supporting resolutions against Iraq but not those against Israel.
The Arab Baath Socialist Party newspaper Al-Thawra suggested the resolution could provoke a backlash: "increased resistance by the oppressed."
The Security Council on Wednesday took another step against Iraq, condemning atrocities committed against Kuwaitis and placing Kuwait's civil records in U.N. custody.
The council voted 15-0 to adopt a resolution that "condemns the attempts by Iraq to alter the demographic composition" of Kuwait and to destory the country's civil records.
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar was asked to take over the records of the Kuwaiti government and its population of nearly 2 million, which is composed of 39 percent ethnic Kuwaitis, 39 percent other Arabs and the rest from India, Iran and Pakistan.
In other developments:
-A former Navy secretary said Thursday that President Bush must not add to his "error" of ordering 430,000 troops to the region by attacking Iraq.
"The president's mistake in sending so many troops should not be compounded by a further error in using them in a premature, unprovoked ground offensive," James Webb told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Webb, who served in the Reagan administration, is the third former top military official to urge caution in the gulf. Two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday Bush should give sanctions against Iraq more time to work before going to war (see A2).
-Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the Senate minority leader, said in a statement Wednesday the chances were "better than 50-50" for a special congressional session on the gulf crisis, probably before Christmas.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush remains reluctant to call Congress back to discuss the gulf crisis.
"Let's wait and see," Fitzwater said Thursday, suggesting Bush would consult with members of Congress he has invited to the White House on Friday about the possibility of a special session.
-Vice President Dan Quayle argued against waiting too long. "Does patience today risk greater American casualties tomorrow?" Quayle asked in remarks Thursday to Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
"Even as we exercise patience and restraint, we must also be alert to the moral costs of such a course." He said that "with every day that passes," the plight of the people of Kuwait "grows more desperate."
Furthermore, Quayle said, "will continued patience with Iraq help make the world vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by Saddam" and if so, is this a moral course of action?"
The U.N. use-of-force resolution remained on track after the United States, presiding over the council this month, delayed a vote Wednesday on whether to deploy U.N. observers to protect Palestinians in Israeli-occupied lands.
Seeking to maintain its alliance with Arab countries opposing Iraq, Washington wants to avoid having to veto or abstain in a vote that would offend Israel.
U.S. officials also wanted to pass the use-of-force resolution before Saturday, when the council presidency passes to Yemen, which has sympathized with Iraq.
"Either we will build civilized relations between states, a new world order and new policy, or will live by the law of the jungle," Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said upon arriving in New York on Wednesday.
Baker personally has consulted all 14 other Security Council members. At least 12 appeared solidly behind the resolution. With nine votes needed to pass, Cuba, Yemen and China were the holdouts.
Malmierca said after meeting with Baker that he found the resolution "not acceptable."
Baker and Qian refused to answer reporters' questions when they got together at midnight Wednesday at a New York hotel. Earlier Qian said he would not vote in favor of the resolution. China had not said publicly how it would vote.
Qian's statement was widely viewed as a move to win political concessions from Washington, which imposed sanctions on China after its June 1989 military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
In a possibly related development, the Asian Development Bank today granted China a $50 million agricultural loan, its first to the Beijing government since the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.