Secretary of State Colin Powell's appearance Wednesday before the U.N. Security Council provides the Bush administration with its best opportunity to sway international opinion on the threat posed by Iraq's weapons program.
Secretary Powell's presentation is already being compared to the 1962 showdown at the United Nations between the United States and the Soviet Union, over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
For pure international drama, it may be difficult to beat the 1962 confrontation at the United Nations between U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin.
Displaying photographs taken by U-2 spy planes, Ambassador Stevenson documented the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba capable of striking the United States.
"I am not in an American courtroom, sir," then Soviet Ambassador Zorin replied, "and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion in which a prosecutor does. In due course, sir, you will have your reply."
Mr. Stevenson then said, "You are in the court of world opinion right now and you can answer yes or no. I am prepared to wait for my answer until Hell freezes over if that is your decision."
The Stevenson presentation and the exchange with Soviet Ambassador Zorin helped to turn world opinion in the U.S. favor and added to the international pressure on the Soviets to withdraw their missiles.
Bush administration officials acknowledge that it may be difficult to achieve the same kind of convincing public relations victory when Secretary Powell goes before the U.N. Security Council.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal newspaper, Secretary Powell says there will be no "smoking gun" in his presentation on Iraq. But he will offer what he calls "a straightforward, sober and compelling demonstration" that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence of his weapons of mass destruction.
Late last week, Secretary Powell had this advice for the Iraqi leader, saying, "If you want to avoid conflict, if you want to get right with the international community, if you want to get out of the material breaches you are in, come clean, come forward, lay it all out, bring the documents out. Show us the bunkers. Show us the missing missiles. Show us all, so that it can be verified by the inspectors."
Political analysts see the Powell presentation as a crucial test of the Bush administration's ability to shape public opinion on Iraq, both at home and abroad.
Tom Defrank, Washington bureau Chief of the New York Daily News and a commentator on VOA's 'Issues in the News' program, said "It will be interesting to see how much evidence Secretary Powell unveils. It is not supposed to be as decisive as the Cuban Missile Crisis photos, but there will be intelligence intercepts and documents and photos. It will be interesting to see how much comes out."
Other experts caution not to expect too much from Wednesday's briefing. John Hulsman, with the Heritage Foundation - a public policy research organization here in Washington - said, "We are all looking for the glamour of an Adlai Stevenson 1962 moment where we say, 'Well, there is the missile and you are lying', and the Russian guy looks flabbergasted. You have the information. That simply will not happen. This is an incremental (Bush) administration. It is cautious about proceeding here. It does this in its own way and this was a step forward, no more and no less," Mr. Hulsman said.
Public opinion polls suggest President Bush boosted support for his Iraq policy in his State of the Union Address last week. But University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says Secretary Powell will likely have a tougher time convincing skeptics overseas.
"It is pretty clear that very few people abroad were convinced of anything. But they had already had their minds made up. They are very much opposed to this war. They see it as the American Cowboy Syndrome, not just represented by George W. Bush, but by the American precedents over the past 40 years," Mr. Sabato said.
Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. Former Undersecretary of State Joseph Sisco, a guest on VOA's 'Encounter' program, says the Bush administration is slowly but surely building international support for its tough line on Iraq.
"Many, many nations are falling in line in the region and elsewhere. What does that tell us? It tells us that they are reading the tea-leaves in ways that are in their national interests, as they should, as we are in our own. And when Secretary Powell talks about the coalition, it is a substantial one and will increase markedly, in my opinion, over the next couple of weeks," Mr. Sisco said.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Secretary Powell says he will begin a new round of what he calls "full and open consultation" with U.S. allies about the next steps in disarming Iraq. But Secretary Powell also writes that the United States will not "shrink from war" if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.