UNITED NATIONS -- A final drive for votes went into the early morning today as Secretary of State James A. Baker III sought support from China for a U.N. authorization of force against Iraq and a commitment from Cuba not to oppose it.
U.S. and other diplomats, predicting a solid majority in the Security Council today, ruled out the possibility of a Chinese veto. But Mr. Baker was to meet late last night with China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, in what appeared to be a final push for a yes vote.
The Bush administration has made strong efforts to court China, which is seeking to regain international respectability lost in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Mr. Qian has been invited to Washington to meet with Mr. Baker tomorrow.
U.S. and other Western diplomats were uncertain how to read the Chinese foreign minister's statement before he left Beijing yesterday that reports saying he would back the measure were groundless.
But officials said that China, while opposed to the use of force, has a pattern of not abstaining and sees its role as one of the five permanent Security Council members as crucial to regaining world respect.
An abstention by China would break the solid front of major powers in putting increasing pressure to bear on Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Earlier, Mr. Baker held what was believed to be the first publicized meeting since the 1960s between high Cuban and U.S. officials, seeking the vote of Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca.
Arriving in New York yesterday afternoon, Mr. Baker went straight to the Soviet mission for a lengthy session with Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
The Soviet, speaking to reporters, raised the possibility of dispatching an envoy to Iraq after today's vote in a final bid for peace.
Today's resolution is expected to set Jan. 1 or, more likely, Jan. 15 as the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before facing removal by "all necessary means."
"I think we will have to think about that after the meeting, after the vote," Mr. Shevardnadze said.
"I think we should develop a big effort to make sure we are not compelled to use military force. We want to prevent a military clash."
Later, he said he and Mr. Baker would discuss future diplomatic action on the Persian Gulf crisis when they meet in Houston Dec. 10-11 in preparation for an expected superpower summit in January.
Both he and Mr. Baker met with Cuba's foreign minister. Cuban officials have said they could not support the resolution but have not said they would vote against it.
Emerging from his meeting with Mr. Baker, Mr. Malmierca said the resolution authorizing force against Iraq as it now stood was "not acceptable" to Cuba, but he expressed hope that further consultations would change it. But a senior U.S. official
said no serious modifications were under consideration.
Beforehand, Mr. Malmierca said Cuba wanted to contribute to a peaceful solution, and "We don't think at the moment that that is in the content of the resolution."
Although the U.S.-Cuba session was historic in that it was publicly disclosed in advance, it was not unprecedented. Secretary of State George P. Shultz met his Cuban counterpart informally at the United Nations in December 1988.
U.S. officials said last night's U.S.-Cuba session did not mark a change in relations.
Meanwhile, the Security Council put off a vote on a resolution that would open the way for the United Nations to monitor the Israeli-occupied territories, indicating that the United States had agreed to give it serious consideration.
Amid loud complaints by Cuba that the United States, presiding over the council, was flouting U.N. rules by stalling on the Palestinian resolution, the council agreed privately to take up the resolution tomorrow at the earliest.
The delay allows for further redrafting in an effort to come up with a resolution that the United States, Israel's strongest supporter on the council, would not have to veto.