NEW YORK – Saddam Hussein poses an imminent terror threat to the nations of the world and must be forced to disarm immediately, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Thursday.
"Disarming Iraq and the war on terror are not merely related," Wolfowitz said. "Disarming Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons and dismantling its nuclear weapons program is a crucial part of winning the war on terror."
Facing European resistance, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday he hoped the United Nations could forge a consensus on dealing with Iraq. But Russia joined France and Germany in opposing war to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"We deemed there are no serious reasons for war with Iraq," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said. He said Russia would do all it could to pursue diplomacy to deal with Iraq.
Amid the public debate between the United States and key European nations, President Bush interceded with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said Putin told Bush on the telephone that "the main criterion" should be the findings that U.N. weapons inspectors are due to present to the U.N. Security Council on Monday.
With the Bush administration under pressure, Powell said the United States would be able to put together a strong coalition if it decided to go to war with Iraq.
"I don't think we will have to worry about going it alone," he said.
Powell, extending an olive branch at the same time, said he recognized other nations have "have points of view and they have principles they believe in."
The inspectors report on Monday to the Security Council "is a beginning debate, not the end of debate," Powell said at the State Department as he held talks with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain. "We listen to others and we find a way forward."
For instance, he said, while the Bush administration feels a new U.N. resolution to authorize force probably is unnecessary, it is keeping an open mind because many Security Council nations "would prefer to see a second resolution if it comes to the use of military force."
A new resolution could give Germany, France, Russia and other critics a chance to block a war or to filibuster against one.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he could never accept the idea that war is inevitable.
"This is a common position of France and Germany, and we will not be diverted from it," Schroeder said.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany would try to arrange to have the weapons inspectors report again after Monday.
And in Athens, Greece, Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, said there was not enough evidence from the inspections to justify military intervention.
"We want to hope that no country will take unilateral action outside of U.N. resolutions," Ivanov said. "If that happens Russia will do all that is necessary to return the process to the diplomatic path."
In Ankara, Turkey, meanwhile, foreign ministers of six neighbors of Iraq -- Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- urged Iraq to "demonstrate a more active approach" in providing information on its weapons programs "in full conformity" with U.N. regulations.
Powell and other administration officials left little doubt, though, that Bush was moving closer to a decision to go to war -- with U.N. support or without it.
Wolfowitz, seeking support from the Council on Foreign Relations, told the influential private group in New York that disarming Iraq is critical to the war on terrorism.
In what was the most extensive description by an administration official of U.S. intelligence support, Wolfowitz also said, "We know from multiple sources that Saddam has ordered that any scientists who cooperate during interviews will be killed, as well as their families."
Also, the Pentagon official said, "scientists are being tutored on what to say to the U.N. inspectors and Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as scientists to be interviewed by the inspectors."
But in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, a senior Iraqi official, said Iraqi scientists had refused to submit to private interviews with U.N. arms inspectors despite government attempts to encourage them to do so under an agreement with the United Nations.
Former President Clinton, meanwhile, said it was wise for the administration to seek wide support in the United Nations and to listen to what the inspectors had learned. But, Clinton said, the administration ought to keep open the option of going it alone.
Powell told reporters at the State Department that Iraq's failure to disarm was "a challenge that must be met."
He said the administration would consider the inspectors' report on Monday and participate in Security Council deliberations about it.
But, he said, "the United States reserves the right to do what it thinks is appropriate to defend its interests, the interests of its friends and to protect the world."
British minister Straw, in response to European skeptics, said all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council who unanimously approved a resolution in November authorizing weapons searches "knew what they were saying" when they warned of serious consequences if Iraq did not get rid of its weapons.
Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Capitol Hill to give a private briefing to which all members of the Senate were invited.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said they had not been notified of a determination by Bush determination to use military action in Iraq.
"The situation itself is obviously grave," the Tennessee Republican said. "Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to accomplish what we are asking him, really as an international community to accomplish."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a presidential candidate, said in a speech at Georgetown University, "The Bush administration's blustering unilateralism is wrong, even dangerous, for our country."
"In practice, it has meant alienating our longtime friends and allies, alarming potential foes and spreading anti-Americanism around the world."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.