China has said there is no need for a new resolution on Iraq, dealing a fresh blow to US efforts to push a second motion through the UN.
Iraqis have been told to prepare for war
However China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxun did not say whether Beijing would resort to a veto in a vote on a second resolution in the Security Council, which is deeply divided over whether military action against Iraq is necessary.
In another development, President George W Bush is to hold a news conference on prime-time television on Thursday night (0100 GMT Friday).
The White House has denied a rumour that the US has caught al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, and said the news conference is "not a scheduled announcement of anything".
"It's an opportunity for people to ask questions and for the president to discuss what's on his mind," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
On the eve of a crucial report about progress on Iraqi disarmament to the Security Council, it has emerged that the UK and US are considering setting a tight deadline giving Iraq a final opportunity to disarm peacefully under their proposed second resolution.
Sources in London said the draft resolution co-sponsored by the UK, US and Spain could be amended in an attempt to secure the support necessary for the proposal to succeed in the Security Council.
However, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has now said he would be willing to go to war against Iraq even if more than one country vetoed a second UN resolution.
Threshold of conflict?
Against the diplomatic backdrop, military preparations for possible war are gathering pace.
Washington has revealed that aircraft from the US and British forces enforcing the southern no-fly zone in Iraq have more than doubled the number of their patrols.
Pentagon planners hope that by dramatically increasing flights in this way, they will be able to mask the start of any conflict.
In other developments:
- Three Iraqi civilians were killed when US and UK warplanes bombed targets in the southern "no-fly" zone overnight, Iraqi officials said
- Five suspected Islamic militants were arrested and a large amount of weapons and ammunition are seized in Kuwait
- Russia says it is evacuating about 600 of its workers and their families from Baghdad
- Japan tells its nationals in Kuwait, the Khafji area of Saudi Arabia and Israel to leave at once
- Two Iraqi UN diplomats are ordered to quit the US within 72 hours for "activities incompatible with their status"
- The Iraq crisis is expected to dominate talks between German and Italian leaders.
China's foreign minister, speaking before leaving for the UN on Thursday, said: "We think it is not necessary to introduce any new resolution".
Tang Jiaxuan said he backed France, Germany and Russia, who have threatened to block any resolution paving the way for war with Iraq.
Russia has repeatedly said it might use its veto.
But French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Thursday that the use of the veto "wasn't an issue" because the majority of council members supported France's position.
The BBC's Francis Markus in Shanghai says China's pragmatic instincts make it reluctant to jeopardise an improving relationship with Washington by using its veto against a war it knows might well go ahead anyway.
Efforts to bridge the deep divisions in the Security Council over disarming Iraq have been continuing.
A spokesman for the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said all kinds of ideas were being considered.
Well-informed sources in London say the UK and US are discussing how far they can move to draw support from six uncommitted members of the Security Council.
However, US Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated that US patience is running short.
"Nothing we have seen since the passage of [UN Security Council resolution] 1441 indicates that Saddam... has taken that strategic and political decision to disarm," Mr Powell told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.