WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate committee Thursday that Feb. 14 will be a key date in deciding Iraq's fate. That's when chief weapons inspectors will report to the U.N. Security Council after meeting with Iraqi officials this weekend.
"I think we are reaching an endgame in a matter of weeks, not a matter of months," Powell said, adding a conclusion will be reached "one way or another."
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to justify his department's foreign affairs budget, Powell also said that other countries should not try to confront the U.S. military because "you will end up second."
Powell said that Security Council members are looking for a change in attitude from Baghdad, but that he doesn't suspect that Saddam Hussein will allow inspectors to meet with scientists and engineers who have worked on weapons programs. Chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei are headed to Baghdad this weekend.
Powell spoke to the panel one day after presenting evidence to the U.N. Security Council that the administration says is solid proof that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is not disarming and is determined to defy the world.
Some Security Council members, convinced of Iraq's defiance but not persuaded to take military action, have expressed the possibility of a second U.N. resolution authorizing war.
Later in the day, Bush said the United States would welcome a second Security Council resolution to enforce resolution 1441.
"The United States would welcome and support a new resolution which makes clear that the Security Council stands behind its previous demands. Yet, resolutions mean little without resolve. The United States, along with a growing coalition of states, is resolved to take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime," Bush said in the Roosevelt room of the White House.
Bush thanked Powell for detailing efforts by Iraq to hide weapons, and said it is now time for the Security Council to rise to the occasion and show it has the wherewithal to back its demands that Saddam stop producing weapons of mass destruction.
"All the world can rise to this moment. The community of free nations can show that it is strong and confident and determined to keep the peace. The United Nations can renew its purpose and be a source of stability and security in the world. The Security Council can affirm that it is able and prepared to meet future challenges and other dangers," Bush said with Powell by his side.
Earlier in the day, a Bush administration official said French President Jacques Chirac holds the key to whether Bush will seek a new resolution from the Security Council to authorize force against Iraq. If Chirac insists on vetoing such a resolution, Bush will not seek one, the official said.
U.S. lawmakers voiced confidence in Powell's ability to handle the delicate situation in Iraq as diplomatically as possible and praised him for his presentation to the Security Council.
But they also expressed concern over the next step.
"We're in a very critical moment, as you know," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "You have a very difficult balancing act."
Biden said threats from North Korea and Al Qaeda cannot be forgotten in President Bush's crusade against Iraq. He and others, like Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also cautioned the administration to let Americans know what they should expect if the United States goes to war.
"I do think it's important to tell the American people what may be expected of them," Biden said. "There is an overwhelming expectation that this will be a repeat of what happened in the 1990s" in the Gulf War. "Johnny and Jane aren't going to come home immediately … I don't think the American people understand that yet."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., earned a staunch retort when she told Powell, "I fear that our foreign policy is becoming quite reactive, except in Iraq, where we're driving things. I see a doctrine that appears to me as one of designed neglect."
Powell, who was there to defend the president's $28.5 billion budget request for fiscal year 2004, appeared taken aback by the term "designed neglect" and assured her that no foreign relations are being foresaken in order to deal with Iraq.
"We deal with all the issues — none is being ignored," Powell said.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Fox affiliate WJW in Cleveland that, after Powell's presentation Wednesday, "For the first time, the American people got a very clear sense of the range of issues that have caused the president so much concern and caused him to treat this as a case of very serious danger to the United States."
Powell told lawmakers that the United States is "looking with great interest" at the report to be presented by Blix and ElBaradei next Friday. Powell said Iraq must change its attitude and process of the inspections and give up more information.
"I think it'll start to come to a head" after the weapons inspectors' report, Powell said. "I would say that, within weeks, as the president has said, we would know enough to bring this to a conclusion one way or another … The president doesn't want a war, but this is a problem we can't walk away from."
Although many foreign ministers who spoke after Powell at the United Nations on Wednesday read from scripts urging more time for inspections, Powell said he spoke to these ministers afterward and "there was some shift in attitude" from them.
"I think more and more nations are realizing this cannot continue like this indefinitely," Powell said. "I think, perhaps, there may be more support for a second resolution than some might think."
Powell made his case for his department's budget — large portions of which will go toward antiterrorism initiatives.
About $4.7 billion will go toward counter-terrorism and assistance to countries that have joined the war on terrorism. The Millennium Challenge Account would receive $1.3 billion, which would be doled out to other nations that encourage economic freedom and make efforts to root out terrorism and corruption.
"This, I think, is one of our most significant initiatives," Powell said, adding that it will show the United States "who is on the right and wrong side" of certain values.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.