Secretary of State Colin Powell, meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said the U.S. would not have to act alone in a military strike on Iraq, despite calls from France and Germany to give United Nations inspection teams more time to search for weapons of mass destruction before considering a second resolution authorizing force.
"I think that as we move forward, if it can't be solved peaceably ? the United States reserves the right to do what it thinks is appropriate to defend its interest, the interest of its friends and to protect the world," Powell said. "And I'm quite confident if it comes to that we'll be joined by many nations."
Responding to the French and German statements, Straw said that the Security Council countries, including France and Germany, "knew what they were signing up to" when they supported U.N. Resolution 1441 ? the resolution that lays out terms for Iraqi disarmament.
Later Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz reiterated the importance of disarming Iraq, calling it "a crucial part of winning the war on terror."
According to Wolfowitz, the U.S. believes Iraqi officials had been continually moved sensitive documents about its weapons systems to various hiding places. He also said Iraqis had attempted to use computer technology to gather intelligence on U.N. weapons inspectors' movements.
Wolfowitz said it is not the U.N. inspectors' responsibility "to find Saddam's hidden weapons when he lies about them and conceals them.
"Sending a few hundred inspectors search an area the size of the state of California would be to send them on a fool's errand or to play a game. And let me repeat: this is not a game," he told the Council on Foreign Relations.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Thursday renewed the call for a peaceful solution to the Iraq conflict.
"We are both of the opinion, and the French president said that quite clearly yesterday, that one can never accept it when it is said that war is unavoidable," Schroeder said. "War may never be considered unavoidable."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday criticized France and Germany's stance, saying they represented the views of "old Europe" and that the U.S. would find its support elsewhere on the continent.
"If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east," Rumsfeld said. "Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem. ... But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They're not with France and Germany on this, they're with the United States."
The remark drew a angry responses from some French and German officials.
"Rumsfeld is not exactly a diplomat and it is not very wise to say something like that," Volker Ruehe, chairman of the German parliament's foreign policy committee, told Reuters.
However, others, like French President Jacques Chirac, did not respond directly to the comments, saying through a spokeswoman that "polemics have no place in this debate."
As the diplomatic back and forth continued, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, head of Baghdad's Monitoring Directorate, told reporters in Iraq he expected next week's report from U.N. weapons inspectors to be neither positive nor negative.
Amin said he expected the U.N. inspectors to be "objective and professional and concentrate on important issues because the issues we differ on are not that important to the [inspectors'] work."
The report, mandated by resolution 1441, could play into a decision by either the U.N. or U.S. to launch a military strike in Iraq. Amin said Iraq was cooperating with weapons inspectors, and Iraq has maintained it does not possess weapons of mass destruction.