American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has arrived in the Persian Gulf for several days of talks with U.S. allies that are expected to include a discussion of Iraq, which, the White House has made it clear could become the next target in the war on terrorism.

This visit marks the third time a senior Bush administration official has traveled to the Gulf in as many months. In March, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney came to the region to discuss Iraq, and Mr. Rumsfeld's trip underscores the importance the U.S. places on key allies in the region and the role they would play in future American military operations against Baghdad.

The Persian Gulf is a base for thousands of American troops helping to enforce sanctions against Iraq, including the southern no-fly zones. Secretary Rumsfeld would not answer questions about any possible plans to attack Iraq. But before meeting Kuwait's emir, he told American troops based here Baghdad is trying to acquire more advanced weapons of mass destruction, which, he says, could fall into the hands of terrorists.

"You are the people who stand between freedom and fear, between our people and a dangerous adversary that cannot be appeased and cannot be ignored and cannot be allowed to win," he told the troops.

President Bush has repeatedly said he has no plans for military action against Iraq. But just last week, Vice President Cheney delivered another warning about possible military action, saying the United States will act against countries that threaten its security. A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Secretary Rumsfeld will use his visit to the Persian Gulf to again voice American concern over Baghdad's alleged efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the threats they pose to the region and beyond.

From Kuwait, the defense secretary will travel on to Bahrain and Qatar, two other countries that would be on the front lines in a war against Iraq. But no stops are planned in Saudi Arabia, which was a key U.S. ally in the Gulf War 11 years ago.