A senior Bush administration official said the U.S. led coalition poised for war with Iraq is growing, and could end up with more countries than the number involved in the 1991 Gulf conflict.

A senior Bush administration official said that more than two dozen countries have signed up for what the official terms "various aspects of military action" in Iraq.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to VOA at the Pentagon, declines to provide details, but describes the coalition as "growing and vibrant". The official predicts it could end up with more participants than the 36 involved in the 1991 Gulf war.

The United States is the lead participant. It has already positioned more than 200,000 military personnel for a potential conflict with Iraq, nearly half of them deployed in Kuwait. Britain is the second-biggest contributor, with close to 40,000 additional soldiers.

The senior official says the size of the coalition refutes suggestions that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent critical comments about some traditional U.S. allies have hampered the coalition-building effort.

In recent weeks, Mr. Rumsfeld has dismissed French and German opposition to a new war with Iraq by describing them as "old Europe." He has also lumped Germany with Cuba and Libya as opponents of a war, an association that angered many Germans.

This week in Washington, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to temper such remarks when he was asked, humorously, why the administration does not favor talks with North Korea when it continues to hold discussions with France. His response provoked laughter.

"I am not going there. The French are our allies in NATO, and North Korea is a very different situation," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld went on to insist he did not think relations within the NATO alliance have been damaged beyond repair by the controversy. He said NATO has been through many difficult periods, but has remained a major force for stability.