President Bush will take his case for a strong stand against Iraq to the NATO summit in Prague. He is hoping for a show of moral support from the alliance.
The president travels to Prague as an advance U.N. weapons inspection team begins its work in Iraq.
In private meetings and public comments, Mr. Bush is expected to talk about the importance of Iraqi disarmament. The president's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says Iraq will be discussed in general terms, but will not dominate the Prague summit.
"Iraq is typical or the most important example of the kind of threat that NATO will face in the future. So it would be odd if this were not an issue at the summit. But it is not the reason for this summit," she said.
President Bush comes to the Prague summit fresh from a diplomatic victory at the U.N., which unanimously adopted a Security Council resolution setting tough terms for weapons inspections and warning of consequences if Iraq does not comply.
Ms. Rice makes clear the president would like summit participants to echo the sentiments expressed by the United Nations but is not looking for any commitments of help should the United States decide, as a last resort, to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein through force.
"I suspect that we will hear from NATO partners what they are prepared to [do] and what they can do, but that's not the purpose of this summit," she said. She predicts the Prague summit will issue some sort of political statement on Iraq.
James Steinberg, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says the alliance is likely to put out a simple statement backing the U.N. resolution.
"The posture will be such that it will be very easy for NATO to be very united and very clear about the need for Saddam to comply and will be very unspecific about what will happen if he doesn't, other than to say serious consequences or something to that effect," he said.
There are several reasons why a military declaration is not in the offing. One is that the focus is now on the diplomatic track, as inspectors return to Iraq. Another is that Germany would likely oppose any statement dealing with the use of force.
Germany's stand on Iraq was highlighted during the recent German national election campaign. Strong statements by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and members of his party critical of the Bush administration's Iraq policy created tensions between Berlin and Washington.
The Prague summit will mark the first time since the German elections that President Bush and Chancellor Schroeder have been in the same room together. Mr.Steinberg says they will downplay their differences.
"The president, although I'm sure still feels concerned by and perhaps personally offended by some of the remarks in the German election, knows that the relationship between the United States and Germany is critical to the overall success of NATO and that the president will want this meeting to be a success," he said. "It isn't going to be a success if the centerpiece of the meeting is a continued frosty, non-communicative relationship between the United States and Germany," he said.
Mr. Bush does not plan to hold a one-on-one meeting in Prague with Chancellor Schroeder. But he will discuss Iraq with several other world leaders with a strong interest in the situation including the presidents of Turkey and France.