Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congressmen Wednesday he still holds out hope that reluctant U.S. allies at the United Nations will support authorizing military action to disarm Iraq. But, he said the United States "will not shrink" from the prospect of leading a coalition outside the U.N. framework if necessary. Mr. Powell plans to be present Friday when the Security Council hears a report from U.N. weapons inspectors.
Appearing before the House International Relations Committee, Mr. Powell turned up the political heat on the U.N. Security Council, which is due to hear another report on Iraq by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Friday.
Saying Saddam Hussein has already failed the test of compliance, the secretary of state said the Security Council is approaching a critical juncture over its own political relevance, and that of the Iraq resolution it approved in November, which gave Saddam Hussein a last chance to disarm or face serious consequences.
"We are reaching a moment of truth with respect to this resolution and whether it meant anything or not," Mr. Powell said. "We are reaching a moment of truth with respect to the relevance of the United Nations Security Council to impose its will on a nation such as Iraq which has ignored the will of the council for the last 12 years. And we are reaching a moment of truth as to whether or not this matter will be resolved peacefully or will be resolved by military conflict."
Mr. Powell, who aides say may attend Friday's council meeting, said he will confront his German and French colleagues over whether their calls for extended inspections are anything more than an effort to delay for the sake of delay, and to "get Saddam Hussein off the hook," without disarming.
The secretary said he still holds out hope of being able to rally the council around the November 8 resolution and whatever additional measure might be needed to authorize the use of force, though he stressed the administration still wants a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Mr. Powell was similarly optimistic that the related controversy in NATO can be defused, in which Germany, France and Belgium have been blocking plans to assist Turkey in case of a conflict in Iraq.
"Turkey will be defended. We have already determined how to do that," he said. "It would be much better if NATO would act as an alliance on this, and not allow itself to be tied up in knots by three of the 19 nations. Sixteen nations are there, ready to act, ready to do the job. And I still have same optimism that we'll find solution over the next two to three days."
The House committee hearing was marked by searing criticism of the three NATO holdouts by senior members of both parties.
Republican committee chairman Henry Hyde said Americans are "rightly puzzled" on what appears to be ingratitude, and even hostility, on the part of allies whom the United States has defended from "a succession of aggressors.
Ranking Democrat Tom Lantos was even more pointed, calling the stance of the three allies "beneath contempt."
"I am particularly disgusted by the blind intransigence and utter ingratitude of France, Germany and Belgium, countries which blocked our efforts to even engage in contingency planning if our ally Turkey were attacked by Iraq," he said. "In my judgment NATO is a two-way street, providing protection and demanding commitment. The United States has upheld its commitments, and if it not for the heroic efforts of our military, France, Germany and Belgium today would be Soviet socialist republics."
Another Democrat however, Donald Payne, suggested it was the Bush administration's own policies and tactics that have divided the alliance, and said U.S. political figures should be trying to understand and persuade the NATO partners rather than "vilify" and "trash" them.
Mr. Powell said the United States waged war in Europe to make countries there free and democratic and that U.S. allies have a right to determine what their positions will be.