The Pentagon says U.S. forces will be prepared to move quickly against Iraq if President Bush decides military action is needed to enforce the latest United Nations resolution calling on Baghdad to give up its weapons of mass destruction.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein needs to understand this is his last chance to comply with U.N. demands.
Speaking after talks with Germany's visiting defense minister, Mr. Rumsfeld vowed the United States will keep the pressure on. But he said the choice is Baghdad's.
"The choice does not rest in Washington. It does not rest in New York," he said. "It rests in Baghdad. For the sake of peace, let's hope that the Iraqi regime chooses wisely."
Mr. Rumsfeld warned Iraq not to take or threaten any hostile actions against U.N. inspectors who may soon attempt to enter the country. He also warned Iraq not to threaten coalition aircraft like those now patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. He suggested further firing on the aircraft might be considered a violation of the latest U.N. resolution.
His comments came the same day coalition planes dropped more than 200,000 leaflets southeast of Baghdad urging Iraqi military units not to target U.S. and British aircraft in the no-fly zones. It was the third such leaflet drop in the last six weeks.
Earlier, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke stressed President Bush has made no decisions to take military action against Iraq.
But speaking to reporters, Ms. Clarke said there should be no doubt as to the United States' resolve. She added that the U.S. military will consider any requests for assistance that are made by the U.N. weapons inspectors who are to be sent to Iraq.
But the spokeswoman would not say whether the type of assistance the United States might offer could include armed U.S. military escorts to provide the U.N. weapons inspection team with protection.