WASHINGTON – Addressing a historic rift within NATO, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the future of the 53-year-old military alliance is at risk if it fails to confront the crisis with Iraq.
Distressed by the refusal of three U.S. allies to agree to bolster Turkey's defenses, Powell told the Senate Budget Committee that it is not the United States that is fracturing NATO by seeking support for the option of war to disarm Iraq.
"The alliance is breaking itself up because it will not meet its responsibilities," Powell said in response to a suggestion by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., that the Bush administration was "barreling in" to get Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the objections of allies, Russia and China.
Reflecting widespread skepticism among members of Congress, Hollings said Iraq "is not an immediate threat" and advised Powell "to be a little bit more deliberate" in dealing with other nations about Iraq.
Powell rebutted that "this is the time to deal with this regime, once and for all," as he said it strengthens its ties to Al Qaeda and other terror groups.
He told the committee that what appeared to be a new statement from Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden shows why the world needs to be wary of Iraqi ties to terrorists.
Powell said he had read a transcript of "what bin Laden -- or who we believe to be bin Laden" was saying on the al-Jazeera Arab satellite station Tuesday. "Once again he speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq," Powell said.
As broadcast later, the voice purporting to be bin Laden's urged Iraqis to confront any U.S.-led invasion with camouflaged trenches and suicide bombings.
"With all the might of the enemy, they were unable to defeat us" in Afghanistan, the speaker said. "We hope that our brothers in Iraq will do the same as we did."
Al Qaeda and Iraq, the speaker indicated, are bound by a common hatred of the United States.
On another front, President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, met in New York with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix. They discussed the inspection process, a senior U.S. official said.
Blix and atomic weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei are to report to the Security Council on Friday on their search for weapons of mass destruction.
Powell, in his testimony to the Senate committee, said, "This nexus between terrorists and states that are developing weapons of mass destruction can no longer be looked away from and ignored."
The split between the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies widened Monday when France, Germany and Belgium blocked a U.S.-backed measure to authorize NATO to make plans to protect Turkey if Iraq were to attack. Russia then joined France and Germany in demanding strengthened weapons inspections.
Powell told the committee the United States was engaged in intensive diplomacy to reverse the three nations' action. In any event, he said, the Bush administration and other NATO members would help Turkey with defensive equipment.
He said he hoped NATO "would do the right thing in the next 24 hours."
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, the administration suffered another setback Tuesday when France, Germany and Belgium held to their positions. And Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in a telephone call to French President Jacques Chirac, backed extending U.N. weapons inspections as the preferred way to deal with disarming Iraq.
Powell said the United States would maintain pressure on the U.N. Security Council to back the use of force as an option. "It is clear a moment of truth is coming for the Security Council," he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress may consider reducing financial support for NATO.
Bush, meanwhile, continued on a path of intensive diplomacy, urging support for his hard line against Saddam in telephone conversations with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Angola is a member of the Security Council and shares Bush's view that Saddam must disarm, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Powell, reaching for support in the Arab world, assured the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that "the U.S. has no hate list. The U.S. does not look for countries to hate."
In fact, he said in an interview Monday released by the State Department on Tuesday, "the U.S. looks for friends and partners, and most of the nations in the Arab world are our friends and partners."
Powell praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a wise leader and said the Bush administration would welcome Arab leaders approaching Saddam to urge him to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions.