WASHINGTON – The nation’s top war chief said the Bush administration might be poised to show further evidence of the threats posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that more information could be released during congressional hearings planned for later this month on Capitol Hill.
"One would think that it would be in that context that the discussions about what the fact patterns are would be most appropriately presented," he said.
Rumsfeld would not go so far as to suggest that the president had any particular argument to make, however.
"What the president wants to do and will do in his own time is to provide information that he feels is important with respect to any judgment he decides to make," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon briefing room Tuesday. "And he has not decided what judgments to make, but he certainly would underpin those arguments with factual information."
The president plans to meet with Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the Iraq issue, according to a congressional staffer on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said Iraq was ready to discuss the return of U.N. weapons inspectors -- only if it was in the broader context of restoring Iraqi sovereignty to all of its territory. This would include the no-fly zones imposed after the 1991 Gulf War, and over which U.S. and British forces have continued to patrol.
"If you want to find a solution, you have to find a solution for all these matters, not only pick up one certain aspect of it," Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. "We are ready to find such a solution."
Rumsfeld did not hide his skepticism in Tuesday’s briefing. He said Iraq was trying to "play the international community and the U.N. process like a guitar, plucking the right string and the right process at the right moment."
"And then you'll find at the last moment, they'll withdraw that carrot and go back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community," Rumsfeld said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States would regard the return of inspectors as a "first step" that would not necessarily alter Bush's view of the situation.
"The issue is whether or not Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction," Fleischer said. "The inspectors are a means to that end, and the policy of this government has been that regime change will make the world a safer, more peaceful place."
Secretary of State Colin Powell departed Monday night en route to Johannesburg, South Africa, to attend the summit. He is expected to defend the U.S. view on Iraq to world leaders -- including many who have already voiced opposition to any U.S. attack. Those leaders include former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said he was adamantly opposed to any move by the U.S. without U.N. approval.
"We are really appalled by any country, whether a superpower or a small country, that goes outside the U.N. and attacks independent countries," Mandela said Monday. "What they are saying is introducing chaos in international affairs, and we condemn that in the strongest terms."
The United States has a special responsibility to exercise restraint because "they are the only superpower in the world today, and they must be exemplary in everything they do," he added.
Fleischer said Powell "is as good giving as he is getting" advice. "If he receives any advice, I think the secretary will also be in a very strong position to give his thoughts and his reflections," Fleischer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.