DAVOS, Switzerland—Seeking to calm European allies' anxieties over Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that President Bush does not intend to rush to war after a pivotal report Monday from U.N. weapons inspectors and his State of the Union address a day later.
Powell, speaking to reporters en route to an international meeting in this Swiss ski resort, laid out a rough schedule that could push a final decision on invading Iraq well into February.
In the coming weeks, he said, the United States will consult with allies and try to forge a consensus on how to deal with what Washington insists are clear signs of Iraqi noncompliance with U.N. disarmament demands.
"We are doing this deliberately, wholeheartedly, patiently," Powell said, "but there will be ultimately an end, I believe, to the patience of the international community."
Opposition in Europe to an attack on Iraq appears to have grown rapidly since France and Germany announced last week that they would not support a new U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. They insisted the weapons inspectors be given more time.
Powell came to the World Economic Forum here in part to deliver a major speech Sunday that is intended to lay out the U.S. position on Iraq to a largely European audience.
Since the European preemptive diplomatic strike, which clearly irked Powell, the secretary of state has tried to thread a narrow course.
On the one hand, he has sought to avoid a wider breach with U.S. allies in hopes that, if Bush decides an invasion is necessary, it will get backing at the United Nations.
On the other, he has made it clear that Washington will not go along much longer with a weapons inspections process that in its view is flawed.
Stressing the second half of that strategy, Powell discussed war preparations here Saturday with Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and top Turkish political leader Racep Tayyip Erdogan.
The United States would need Turkey's bases to open up a northern front in Iraq that would tie down part of Saddam Hussein's army.
Powell and Gul "discussed the need to prepare for the possible use of force should Saddam Hussein not accept peaceful disarmament," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
He released few details, but Powell and Gul indicated the talks had gone well.
Later, Powell met with Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani of Qatar, whose Persian Gulf country also would be key to a U.S.-led invasion to overthrow Saddam and destroy his regime.
Powell waved off an informal offer from the Swiss to host direct U.S.-Iraq talks, as they did on the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
While the political leaders met, knots of protesters stood outside in the day-old snow, carrying banners and signs that criticized Bush and his Iraq policy.
Just how much longer the United States is willing to let the inspections continue remains unclear.
Speaking to reporters aboard his aircraft, Powell said Bush is not expected to make "any dramatic announcements" regarding Iraq in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening.
The U.N. Security Council is to debate the report from U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on Wednesday, and Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet at Camp David on Friday.
After that, Powell said, the president and he will consult with other governments and "we'll make a judgment about what we've heard and what we see then ahead."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Powell