WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, continuing its organization of a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Saddam Hussein, was reaching out to world leaders and members of Congress Tuesday with fresh disclosures that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction and has links to Al Qaeda terrorists.
As President Bush prepared to address the nation in his State of the Union address, Secretary of State Colin Powell was preparing to go to the United Nations next week and reveal what senior Defense officials told Fox News is a "wealth of evidence" on Iraq's weapons and ties to Al Qaeda.
Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld also arranged to provide a secret briefing to House members on Wednesday.
Powell will disclose previously classified material designed to indict Iraq as a deceitful holder of illicit weapons and as having links to the plotters of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
He has material showing that Iraq not only was hiding chemical and biological weapons from U.N. inspectors, but that Saddam Hussein was smuggling in technology for long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs, a senior U.S. official said.
Defense officials said some specific evidence of Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda was taken out of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's speech in New York last week. Sources said those paragraphs were not removed from the speech because they were "too sensitive" ... but because they were "to be saved" for a later, more detailed presentation.
"We have plenty of intelligence, and there will be plenty of nuggets to release as the president comes closer to his decision on Iraq," a source told Fox News.
A senior Iraqi official insisted Tuesday that Baghdad holds no banned weapons and said that U.N. inspectors' reports critical of its cooperation was not a "proportional representation" of the facts.
"I would like first of all to say Iraq has been free of any weapons of mass destruction since the end of 1991 and all the inspections ... have proven this fact," Gen. Amir Rashid told reporters.
Powell, meanwhile, conferred with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by telephone Tuesday.
The administration is refusing to tip its hand on when it might go to war to disarm Iraq, but Powell has suggested the tug-of-war with Saddam Hussein was nearing an end.
"What we can't do is just keep kicking the can down the road in the absence of a change in policy and attitude" in Baghdad, Powell said Monday.
Following up on a weapons inspectors' report to the United Nations, President Bush consulted with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on Monday and had meetings on tap later this week with prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and Tony Blair of Britain, the closest U.S. ally.
The United States intends to provide U.N. inspectors with more evidence next week in support of its contention that Saddam has hidden thousands of chemical and biological weapons in palaces, mosques and private homes, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
A U.S. official said the administration might go along with inspections for about two weeks.
The U.N. inspectors credited Iraq with only limited cooperation. "Inspections only work in the presence of cooperation, active cooperation," Powell said.
Asked Tuesday if the administration supports returning to the Council for a second resolution before going to war, Fleischer said, "It's desirable but it is not mandatory."
The Army general who would run a war against Iraq, Tommy Franks, was returning to his Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday after a tour of the Persian Gulf region. The Central Command battle staff has moved from Tampa to a base in Qatar, where Franks would oversee all land, sea and air forces in an Iraq war.
Germany opposes going to war under any circumstances. France, Russia and others have been skeptical that a case for war has been made.
But on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow could soften its insistence on a diplomatic solution if Baghdad hampers U.N. weapons inspectors.
"If Iraq begins to make problems for the work of the inspectors, then Russia may change its position and agree with the United States on the development of different, tougher U.N. Security Council decisions," Putin said during a visit to Ukraine.
The Pentagon pushed ahead with war preparations that point to more than 150,000 troops and four aircraft carrier battle groups, each with more than 70 warplanes, in the Persian Gulf region by the end of February.
In a significant step, the Pentagon concluded an arrangement with the Turkish government to permit up to 20,000 U.S. troops to use bases in Turkey for a potential ground invasion into northern Iraq, a senior Defense Department official said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.