WASHINGTON - Facing still skeptical allies and demands for clearer evidence of threats posed by Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration yesterday launched what it described as a final push for international support for diplomatic and military pressure against Iraq.
President Bush called on "the world to come together and insist that this dangerous man disarm" and renewed his warning that he was willing to order military action even without support from other countries.
Visiting Michigan a day after delivering his State of the Union address, Bush spoke as members of the United Nations Security Council evaluated reports from U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected next week to present the council with new evidence about Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to terrorist networks.
Bush will meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today in Washington and with British Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow at Camp David to try to convince them that Hussein needs to be confronted now.
Russia and France, each of which has veto power in the Security Council, said their position remains unchanged that military action could safely be delayed to give weapons inspectors more time in Iraq. Yet they also said they would examine what Powell presents with an open mind.
Polls find that a majority of Americans support launching military strikes to disarm Iraq but have deep reservations about war if the United States acts without allies. Administration officials have said that they would like the Security Council to pass a new resolution specifically authorizing military force, but insist that another resolution is not required.
John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, refused to say yesterday whether the administration would try to set a deadline for Hussein to disarm or show he is complying with U.N. resolutions.
"The diplomatic window is closing, and the time for decision-making is fast approaching," Negraponte said, adding that, "we don't have a specific timetable in mind."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the world was entering a "final phase" of diplomacy with war looming.
"The president still believes that if diplomacy results in strong and powerful expressions of unity toward Saddam Hussein, so that Saddam Hussein receives as powerful a message as possible that he needs to disarm," Fleischer said, "then this can be resolved peacefully."
'He's a danger'
The president pointed out that the Security Council had voted unanimously to order Hussein to disarm, but that the Iraqi leader, "is clearly not disarming."
"Because of al-Qaida connections, because of his history, he's a danger to the American people," Bush added. "And we've got to deal with him. We've got to deal with him before it is too late."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld picked up on the president's theme that Iraq posed a danger because of its refusal to account fully for its chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear program.
"There's a risk of acting, and on the other hand, there's a risk of not acting," Rumsfeld told reporters. "And the risks of not acting include the potential of the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people."
Rumsfeld also said "the evidence has grown" of a link between Hussein and al-Qaida, a connection questioned by some members of Congress.
He said that the CIA was preparing the information Powell would present to the Security Council, information that Rumsfeld said would include details about Iraq's link to al-Qaida.
More troops called
Meanwhile the Pentagon announced call-ups for nearly 16,000 more National Guard and Reserve troops, a week after calling up 20,000 other reservists to active duty. Yesterday's call-up brings the total Guard and Reserve forces on active duty to about 95,000. Officials said some of those forces will remain in the United States to provide security at military bases, while others will head to Europe or the Middle East.
In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday ordered the deployment of eight 110-foot Island Class patrol boats and two Port Security Units comprising about 600 Coast Guard men and women to the Persian Gulf region. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, about 400 Coast Guard personnel deployed to the region, though this is the first time since the Vietnam War that Coast Guard vessels are being sent to a potential war zone, officials said.
While the buildup of U.S. forces accelerated, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the number of American soldiers operating in northern Iraq is "not significant."
Rumsfeld and Powell traveled to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief members of the House on Iraq. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, said they expanded on the examples Bush listed in his speech about prohibited weapons Hussein was believed to have and has not to date proven he has destroyed.
"They went into detail about why they know that and how they know that," DeLay said.
Rumsfeld and Powell also told lawmakers that if Hussein could be persuaded to hand over power and go into exile - though an unlikely scenario - military action could be averted.
"That certainly would be one way to try to avoid war," Powell told reporters later in the day.
Polls taken after Bush's State of the Union speech suggested that Americans saw Iraq as the most important national issue and believed the president had begun to make a more convincing case for war.
In a Gallup poll Tuesday night, respondents, by a margin of 56 percent to 31 percent, said terrorism and Iraq were more important issues than the economy. A majority of respondents who watched the speech, 67 percent, said the president had made a convincing case for military action in Iraq, compared to 47 percent before the address.
At the United Nations, Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would ask the Security Council for more time to carry out inspections.
In remarks to the Associated Press, he said it was unlikely that weapons inspectors were being duped by Iraqi officials. Bush asserted that Iraqi officials were posing as scientists whom the inspectors wished to interview.
In the case of nuclear scientists, ElBaradei said, it was unlikely the inspectors "could be fooled."
"We know all the scientists from the past," he said. "And I think our people could easily detect if that person is a scientist or not."
Sun staff writers Tom Bowman, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Matthews contributed to this article.