Venturing into a sizzling desert 35 miles from the Iraqi border, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday told U.S. troops they are on the front lines against a foe that seeks to use terrorism to alter the American way of life.

"You are the people who stand between freedom and fear, between our people and a dangerous adversary that cannot be appeased, cannot be ignored and cannot be allowed to win," Rumsfeld told about 1,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines assembled in a gymnasium.

In his prepared remarks, Rumsfeld left little doubt that he was aiming his anti-terror rhetoric at Iraq, which he frequently says is among nations that support international terrorist groups. He alluded to Iraq in describing the ultimate goal of President Bush's war on terror.

"It will not end until state sponsors of terror are made to understand that abetting terrorism is unacceptable and will have deadly consequences for the regimes that do," he said.

Without mentioning Iraq by name, Rumsfeld referred to terrorist states that have weapon of mass destruction — a characterization he often makes of Iraq.

"And they do need to be stopped so that they cannot threaten or hold free people hostage to blackmail or terror," he said.

This sprawling, dusty military base, which Kuwait turned over to U.S. forces after the 1991 Gulf War, bustles with activity. It is home to about 2,000 U.S. troops with M-1A1 Abrams tanks, M2-A2 Bradley infantry vehicles, surface-to-surface missiles, self-propelled cannons, Patriot anti-missile batteries, Apache attack helicopters and other weapons and equipment for desert combat.

In his address to the troops, Rumsfeld emphasized that they could one day join the battle against terrorism.

"The global war on terrorism began in Afghanistan, to be sure, but it will not end there," he said.

He refused, in a question-and-answer session with soldiers, to offer a clue where the next fight would be. He told one soldier there was no doubt that the full might of the American military would be called upon again.

"I'm certainly not in a position to tell you when, why or where," he said.

Rumsfeld later met with several senior Kuwaiti government officials.

Kuwait is the forward headquarters for U.S. Army Central Command, the land warfare component of U.S. Central Command. Its commander, Army Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, greeted Rumsfeld upon his arrival in 110-degree heat.

U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons use a Kuwaiti air base to launch patrol missions over southern Iraq. Supported by British fighters, they enforce a "no fly" zone that has been maintained since shortly after the war to contain Iraq's small air force.

A U.S.-led international coalition of ground forces liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi army occupation in February 1991.

It was Rumsfeld's first visit to Kuwait as defense secretary. He was in the Gulf in October to visit Saudi Arabia and Oman, but did not get to the smaller countries in the northern Gulf.

The stop in Kuwait marked the halfway point in Rumsfeld's 10-day overseas trip. It began Wednesday in London, where his British counterpart, Geoff Hoon, told reporters there are worrying signs recently of Iraq's aggressively challenging the "no fly" zones. Hoon said this poses greater dangers to the British and American pilots patrolling Iraq's sky, and he suggested it might require an allied military response.

Iraq also was a topic of discussion during Rumsfeld's two days in Brussels, Belgium, where he attended NATO defense ministers meetings. He made a quick stop at Geilenkirchen Air Base in Germany, home to NATO's AWACS surveillance aircraft, and thanked NATO crews for their months of service in the United States following the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Monday Rumsfeld was to visit Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, and travel Tuesday to Qatar, where Franks' Central Command has been establishing some elements of a command center as a potential alternative to the command center it now uses in Saudi Arabia.

Later in the week Rumsfeld is expected in India and Pakistan to continue Bush administration efforts to persuade the nuclear-armed neighbors to ratchet down military tensions over Kashmir.