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Moreover, it would leave future U.S. deployments entirely up to the next American president. In describing prospects for an appeal to the Security Council, the U.S. official said that Russia has made clear it will not exercise its veto.

But in discussing that possibility, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that the request to the Security Council would have to come from the Iraqi government.

“We’ll support Iraq’s request to the U.N. Security Council if the Iraqi government asks for the mandate of the current international military presence to be extended,” Mr. Lavrov said recently, the RIA news agency reported.

The U.N. option appears the most realistic at this time, given the upcoming change of administration in Washington and Iraq’s own elections next year, diplomats and analysts said.

“It’s the diplomatic equivalent of kicking the can down the road,” said Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Kim Holmes, vice president of the Heritage Foundation and assistant secretary of state for international organizations during President Bush’s first term, said the Iraqis “are thinking they may get a better deal” if Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama is elected president.

“They could welcome an extension of the U.N. mandate,” he said. “Postponing an agreement would avoid making some hard political decisions for them.”

But Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that the Iraqis “are playing with fire.”

“If Iraqis aren’t careful, they will hand Obama a rationale for a premature departure on a golden platter, assuming he wins Tuesday,” he said. “Even a sense of Iraqi ingratitude could be enough to trigger a decision to start marching brigades out at the rate of one to two a month, as promised, early in 2009.”

The administration has been trying to pressure Baghdad to sign the agreement by threatening to cut millions of dollars in reconstruction and other aid.

After the New Year, U.S. forces “will have no legal basis for operating in Iraq” if nothing is done, and that would be “disastrous” for security in the country, said a State Department official, who also requested anonymity.

“I don’t think the Iraqis fully realize the consequences” of an immediate U.S. withdrawal, he said, adding that many officials and government facilities would lose their U.S. protection, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Kelly Hearn contributed to this report.