Only days after George Bush pledged to call for a vote, whether it might succeed or not, the administration said it would look at "all the options".
The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, declared "the end is coming into sight" as more than 250,000 US and British troops in the region carried out final preparations for an invasion. B-2 Stealth bombers, likely to carry out the first raids of the campaign, left their Missouri bases yesterday. Their destination was expected to be either RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire or the British Indian Ocean base at Diego Garcia.
The White House threw its weight into a last-ditch attempt to win security council backing for a British compromise resolution threatening Iraq with military action if it fails to perform a set of disarmament tasks.
Mr Fleischer signalled that the administration might not meet its Friday deadline, saying the vote might not come until next week.
However, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, said the vote might not come at all.
"We are still talking to the members of the council _ with respect to coalescing around a position that wouldn't draw a veto. The options remain, go for a vote and see what members say or not go for a vote," he said.