Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States and the world cannot afford to allow the threat posed by Iraq's weapons efforts to continue. Mr. Rumsfeld testified before Congress as lawmakers consider wording of a resolution of support for possible military action. Mr. Rumsfeld appeared before the House Armed Services Committee amid continuing congressional concern about military action. But during a time of growing support for the goal of completely disarming Iraq.
Saying the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 require a whole new way of thinking about potential threats to U.S. security, Mr. Rumsfeld said there is no alternative to Iraq's disarmament.
"No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," Secretary Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the risks of not acting against Iraq, given Baghdad's record over the years, are too great.
"The question facing us is this what is the responsible course of action for our country? Do we believe it is our responsibility to wait for a weapon of mass destruction, 9-11 [September 11] or is the responsibility of free people to do something to take steps to deal with such a threat before such an attack occurs?" he asked.
Mr. Rumsfeld says Congress should show it stands behind President Bush by voting on a resolution - before the United Nations Security Council considers its own resolution dealing with Iraq.
After another meeting with President Bush, congressional Democrat and Republican leaders said a vote is likely well before lawmakers leave to prepare for elections.
But many are still uncomfortable with pressure for an early vote, before President Bush makes a final decision on military action, as in this exchange between Arkansas Democrat Vic Snyder and Secretary Rumsfeld.
SNYDER: "Help me understand why it is necessary to have the Congress pass a resolution when the commander-in-chief has not yet made that decision, knowing that we could come back even after adjournment, if the commander in chief says come back, we will come back.
RUMSFELD: "The president has said time is not on our side. He has said the one option we do not have is to do nothing. He has been very clear."
Mr. Rumsfeld's testimony was interrupted briefly by two demonstrators.
"Inspections, not war. Inspections, not war!" they shouted.
The protesters were escorted out of the hearing room, with Secretary Rumsfeld noting afterward that such a demonstration could never have taken place in Iraq.