The Bush administration has begun sounding out U.S. allies and friends on what they could contribute to a possible war with Iraq, should Baghdad refuse to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Officials say the diplomatic effort is needed if the U.N.'s threat of force against Iraq is to be credible.
Officials insist the administration's strong preference is for a peaceful resolution of the issue, with Iraq cooperating with U.N. inspectors and giving up its banned weapons.
But they acknowledge that wide-ranging diplomatic contacts are now underway with potential partners in a military coalition against Iraq, in case it refuses to comply with the latest Security Council resolution.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the contacts are in an early stage, and are aimed at reinforcing the credibility of the November 8 resolution, which warns Iraq of "serious consequences" if it fails to meet its obligations.
"This is the beginning of a discussion that discusses what we might do, what needs to be done, what may need to be done if Iraq does not comply," he said. "That includes possible participation in, and support for, a future coalition that could include not only military contributions but other means as well. And again, this is about making sure our diplomacy is backed by the credible use of force, by the consequences that the U.N. Security Council resolution clearly talks about. And to this end, planning for potential military action is both necessary to increase the pressure on Iraq to comply with the will of the international community, and prudent."
Administration officials say some 50 governments have been approached in the U.S. diplomatic effort, which has included direct appeals to world leaders by top officials of the Bush administration and calls on various governments by U.S. ambassadors.
No details of the contacts were given here, but several countries including Britain, Canada, Norway and Denmark have acknowledged being approached by the United States.
In an interview with Czech television before he left for the NATO summit in Prague, President Bush said if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein refuses to disarm, the United States will lead what he termed a "coalition of the willing" to force him to do so.
But Mr. Bush said he is "not close" to the decision point yet on the use of force, and repeated his assertion that war is not inevitable.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday the United States has been negotiating for months with countries in the Gulf region on the possible use of bases and airspace in event of a conflict.
It said the new diplomatic initiative is aimed at lining up pledges in the form of troops, intelligence support, military hardware and supplies.