WASHINGTON – The Bush administration demanded on Monday that Iraq "come clean" on its suspected weapons programs and confirmed it was conferring with Middle East governments on the threat it said Iraq posed to its neighbors and the world.
"It's a major concern," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said as the administration turned up the rhetorical heat on President Saddam Hussein.
Plans for an attack on Iraq to oust Saddam with the cooperation of other Arab governments are known to be under consideration within the administration.
President Bush has deflected questions about a possible U.S. attack on a regime he branded in January as part of an "axis of evil." His standard reply is that no war plan is on his desk.
However, he has not denied that plans are being prepared.
The militant rhetoric at the State Department on Monday followed the failure of the United Nations last week to convince Iraq to permit the return of U.N. weapons inspectors after a 3 1/2-year lapse.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the Iraqis needed to consult with officials in Baghdad and no date was set for another round of talks.
"There has been some movement, but obviously not enough," Annan said Friday.
Boucher said he would not speculate about a possible attack on Iraq. He then raked the Baghdad government for failing to "come clean for the world" and open suspect sites to the United Nations.
Iraq's refusal raises suspicions about what the government is up to, Boucher said.
"We certainly do talk to governments in that region all the time about Iraq. ... Iraq is a threat to regional security, to the nations in the region, as much as anybody else, and their development of weapons of mass destruction continues to threaten everybody in the region, as well as the rest of the world," he said.
The State Department on Tuesday will host a meeting of groups seeking to overthrow Saddam. Another meeting will be held soon in London.
So far, these opposition groups have failed to make a dent in Saddam's rule. And neither has a succession of U.S. presidents and secretaries of state and defense.