The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have failed to agree on practical steps to transfer political power to the people of Iraq.
Basis for agreement but no deal
After hosting a meeting in Geneva, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said they all shared "the aspiration to transfer power to the Iraqi people as soon as possible" but further talks were needed to iron out differences.
The timetable and manner of that transfer has proved a deeply divisive issue, rekindling memories of the split between France and the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war, says the BBC's Gordon Corera at the talks.
France has suggested the establishment of a new Iraqi Government in a month, a draft constitution by the end of the year and elections by next spring.
But US Secretary of State Colin Powell has dismissed this as "totally unrealistic".
Mr Powell is now to travel to Kuwait and Iraq, the US State Department has announced.
Mr Annan said the meeting had not been intended to "devise specific solutions".
"Consensus is essential and achievable," he said but "not enough".
In addition to more military deployments, he said, a political horizon of power transfer was needed in Iraq.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was up to the Iraqi people through their representative governing council to work with the coalition and the UN to deliver a timescale for transferring political power.
The US wants other countries to contribute troops
"We want a democratic government of the Iraqi people by the Iraqi people," he said.
The US has put forward a proposal to create an international force in Iraq to ease pressure on its troops.
But Washington is not prepared to put its soldiers under UN command.
The draft US resolution would leave Washington in charge of the military occupation but grant the UN and the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council a role in running elections.
Some Security Council members - including France, Russia and Germany - are reluctant to approve any resolution on Iraq that appears to give retrospective blessing to the Iraq war, which they opposed.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said all members agreed on the principle of Iraqi sovereignty - and that France would work towards it in a constructive manner.
Colin Powell said all were committed to put authority back into the hands of the Iraqi people but this should be done "in a responsible way".
Washington, he said, was keen to involve the other non-permanent members of the Security Council in the discussions over the draft resolution.
If no agreement is reached among the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, the chances of passing a new resolution on Iraq when the full Council meets later this month appear very slim indeed.
Failure to agree would also be a bitter blow for UN aid agencies, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.
They have warned that they are hanging on by their fingernails in Iraq and facing the worst threats to their safety in the entire history of the UN.
Powell: "We can't be expected to just step aside"
Security is likely to be high on Mr Powell's agenda during his trip to Iraq. He will be the highest-ranking US official to visit since US-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein's government in April and occupied the country.
"In Iraq, he will meet with Iraqis and with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority in order to see first hand the progress being made by the international community and by the Iraqi people in rebuilding their nation," a US statement said.
On Friday, President Bush called for more outside help, saying no free nation could be neutral in the fight between civilisation and chaos.