Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says some Taleban and al-Qaida members have escaped from Afghanistan into Iran. Mr. Rumsfeld says they have found a place of refuge on Iranian soil.

The secretary of defense said there is no doubt in his mind. He says Iran's border with Afghanistan is "porous," and Taleban and al-Qaida members are slipping through and finding refuge. "We have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of al-Qaida," he said. "We have any number of reports, more recently, that they have been supplying arms in Afghanistan to various elements in the country."

During an appearance on ABC's This Week television program, Mr. Rumsfeld said Iran has not followed the example of Pakistan, which placed troops along its border with Afghanistan in an effort to keep Taleban and al-Qaida elements out.

The secretary of defense was then asked if there is any way the United States can put pressure on Iran to take similar action. "We do not announce things we are going to do, before we do them," he replied.

He said the power to make such decisions rests with the president of the United States. And while the White House has made clear all options are open, President Bush has left no doubt he is running out of patience with not just Iran, but also Iraq and North Korea. Mr. Bush singled them out in his State of the Union address as an "axis of evil," saying these three countries seek weapons of mass destruction that could end up in the hands of terrorists.

His strong words prompted criticism overseas. Secretary of State Colin Powell told CBS-TV's Face the Nation program that Iran's record on Afghanistan is mixed and a cause for concern. "We saw the Iranians play a helpful role at the Bonn Conference in setting up the interim authority for the new government of Afghanistan," he said, "and they played a helpful role in Japan a couple of weeks ago at the reconstruction conference, and they made a significant contribution. But we also see them doing some unhelpful things with respect to Afghanistan."

Mr. Powell went on to defend the President's choice of words. The secretary of state said when Mr. Bush spoke of an "axis of evil," he was speaking from the heart about a real threat to America and the world. "The president spoke in a very clear direct way," he pointed out. "And all of the people who are sort of reacting to this should not be reacting to what the president said. They ought to be reacting to those nations who are not acting in a proper way, who are giving evidence that they are pursuing evil ends."

White House national security advisor Condoleezza Rice emphasized those themes in an interview just an hour or so earlier with the Fox television network. She said that instead of arguing about the president's words, the nations of the world should devote their energy to combating terrorism.