France, who has infuriated the UK and the US by its rejection of a second resolution and of UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s six tests of Iraqi disarmament, maintained its opposition at the council meeting. Paris agreed with the notion of setting benchmarks to measure Baghdad’s co-operation, but not with Iraqi failure to meet them automatically triggering war. The aim ‘is to try, within the logic of the inspectors’ work, to determine both a work programme with benchmarks, with criteria, and a realistic and reasonable timeframe, that will allow forward movement on the path of peaceful disarmament of Iraq,’ said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. ‘It’s not a question of giving Iraq a few more days before committing to force.’ ‘If you reject the logic of ultimatum then you are saying Saddam has forever to disarm,’ responded White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Russia also expressed opposition to the British proposal. ‘The British proposals on Iraq are not constructive and do not solve the main problem – preventing the use of force against Baghdad, deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov told the Interfax news agency on 14 March.

Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear told reporters at the Security Council that Santiago could not support the resolution as it stood. ‘If we had to vote on the resolution that was presented last Friday, Chile would not be accompanying that stance,’ she said. However, she held out the hope that a compromise resolution could be agreed on. ‘And so we are seeking a dialogue in order to find a proposal that finds an exit to this impasse.’ The feeling was echoed by Pakistan, whose ambassador Munir Akram said: ‘At the moment there is no clear way out -We are trying to search for common ground.’

The six ‘swing’ voters – Chile, Mexico, Cameroon, Angola, Guinea and Pakistan – are to meet on 14 March in an attempt to forge a common position.