MUNICH, Germany – In a jab at major U.S. allies, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday countries such as France and Germany that favor giving Iraq another chance to disarm are undermining what slim chance may exist to avoid war.
"There are those who counsel that we should delay preparations" for war against Iraq. "Ironically, that approach could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations sends a signal of uncertainty," Rumsfeld said in the opening address at an international conference on security policy.
President Bush said he will not wait much longer before moving against Saddam Hussein, declaring in his weekly radio address that the Iraqi leader is wasting a last opportunity to come clean.
Rumsfeld said "there is no chance" Saddam will disarm voluntarily or flee his country if given yet another opportunity to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution from November that demands Iraq's complete disarmament.
Thousands more American forces are converging on the Persian Gulf region in anticipation of a decision by Bush, within days or weeks, to invade Iraq and oust Saddam. Also, Turkey's top civilian and military leaders reportedly agreed Saturday to let the United States send 38,000 troops to the country to open a northern front should there be war with Iraq.
On Munich's snowy streets, as many as 20,000 people staged protests against U.S. policy on Iraq. "Today Munich says yes to peace and no to war," said Roman Catholic Bishop Engelbert Siebler.
Rumsfeld said Saddam has time to avert war but should not be given another U.N. reprieve.
"We all hope for a peaceful resolution," Rumsfeld said at the 39th Munich Conference on Security, which attracted lawmakers, policy officials, military leaders and private analysts from the United States, Europe and Asia.
"But the one chance for a peaceful resolution is to make clear that free nations are prepared to use force if necessary — that the world is united and, while reluctant, is willing to act."
In response to Rumsfeld's remarks, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made an impassioned plea for patience with Iraq and said the German public sees no justification for going to war.
"We must not accept the logic of a military campaign," Fischer said. "We must give the inspectors more time."
In Berlin, a German government official said his country is working with France on "specific peaceful alternatives to a military solution." The German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the French-German plan includes placing U.N. troops across Iraq, conducting reconnaissance flights over the country and tripling the number of U.N. weapons inspectors.
Rumsfeld said he had heard of the proposal through press reports, but suggested inspections only work if a country cooperates.
Bush said in his broadcast that Saddam "was given a final chance. He is throwing away that chance." Also Saturday, the president spoke with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who endorses the U.S. hard line on Iraq.
Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defense minister whose government opposes early military action against Iraq, told the Munich conference the main focus should be on fighting international terrorism of all kinds.
Ivanov did not mention Iraq. He and Rumsfeld met later for a one-on-one session that included a discussion of the way ahead in Afghanistan, including the training of a national army.
The split over Iraq among the United States, Britain and numerous other European countries on the one hand and Germany, France and Russia on the other has caused severe strains in diplomatic relations.
Some of the harshest words came from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who, with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., led a U.S. congressional delegation to the conference.
McCain hammered France and Germany for blocking a NATO effort to plan for ways of defending alliance Turkey from potential attacks by Iraq in the event of war. Turkey has requested such assistance, and the United States is strongly in favor of it. The Turks want Patriot anti-missile batteries, surveillance planes and other defensive help.
McCain accused the Germans and French of "calculated self-interest." He said their actions had caused a "terrible injury" to NATO and exposed their "vacuous posturing."
NATO officials are to meet Monday in an attempt to resolve the conflict over defensive aid for Turkey.
"Turkey needs to be looked after," Rumsfeld said before returning to Washington. He noted that Turkey shares a border with Iraq, and "the idea that NATO would deny them NATO support in that circumstance, in my view, is inexcusable.'
In his speech, Rumsfeld left no doubt that Bush is prepared to act soon on Iraq. The Pentagon chief referred to Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council last week and said it provided "not conjecture but facts" on the Iraqi threat.
"It is difficult to believe there still could be any question in the minds of reasonable people open to the facts before them," Rumsfeld said. "The threat is there to see. ... Really the only question remaining is: what will we do about it?"
He concluded his speech by saying, "The coming days and weeks will tell."
In another development signaling the Bush administration's move toward war, the U.S. government has started granting permission for American humanitarian organizations to work in Iran and Iraq.
A license is required for any such group to operate in a country, such as Iran and Iraq, that is subject to U.S. sanctions. Months of discussions have resulted in a streamlined process for organizations that receive U.S. funds, said Sid Balmer, spokesman for InterAction, an alliance of 160 private U.S. organizations doing overseas humanitarian work.
For now, the groups will begin surveying the potential needs and getting supplies in position to prepare for the fallout of war, he said.