Top U.S. officials spent Wednesday trying to bolster the case that the danger posed by Iraq has been made more urgent by a new message, believed to be from terror master Osama bin Laden, urging Muslims to fight the United States if it attacks Iraq. The Bush Administration is still working to convince reluctant some European allies that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons and ties to terrorists can not be contained and that the only option left may be military force.
Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves little doubt he expects Friday's report to the United Nations on Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspections will fall short of showing full compliance, and will leave the Security Council with no option for disarming Saddam Hussein other than military force. "We are reaching the moment of truth," he said.
He told a Congressional panel it's clear a French and German proposal to send more weapons inspectors to Iraq is not going to get Baghdad to accept disarmament demands, and that further efforts to achieve it through peaceful means are useless.
"I was reading intelligence again this morning. There is no question that he is still trying to deceive, he is still trying to hide," he said.
But he revealed the administration is in touch with other countries about getting President Saddam to accept exile even though the White House does not hold out much hope for that happening.
"We are looking at the various aspects of such a strategy, asylum, where, with what protection. And it would have to include him and it would have to include his top level. We would have to get the whole infection out," he said.
If the top U.N. weapons inspectors tell the Security Council Iraq can not fully account for all of its suspected weapons of mass destruction, the United States and Britain are expected to move quickly to present a new U.N. resolution that would clear the way for military action. But so far, there is no sign that France, China or Russia, three members of the council with veto power, are also ready to conclude weapons inspections have failed and that the threat posed by Iraq can not be contained.
But now, the Bush Administration thinks it has new evidence to disprove that, pointing to a just broadcast audio tape believed to be that of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in which he urges Muslims in Iraq to fight Americans if the United States declares war. A White House spokesman calls the tape the kind of nightmare people have warned about.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggests it's one reason why the nation is now on high alert with the government warning about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.
"On some occasions, there have been terrorist attacks that have followed the airing of such tapes,"
In the past, the White House has discouraged broadcasters from airing messages from Osama bin laden. And, this new effort by the Bush administration to accuse Baghdad of being in league with al-Qaida is drawing skepticism, since Osama bin Laden has in the past denounced Iraq's secular government as infidels and the voice on this latest tape does so again.
While Iraq and al-Qaida might have a common enemy - the United States - Germany, which opposes a war against Iraq, says the audio tape shows no apparent link between Iraq and the bin Laden network, a link the Iraqi government denies as well.