WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Wednesday he would consider a wide range of options to oust Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi president "needs to understand I am serious," Bush said.
Bush did not exclude the possibility of a military strike to overthrow Saddam, who has pursued weapons of mass destruction and refused to admit U.N. weapons inspectors.
Secretary of State Colin Powell specifically included military action as an option, although he said Bush had not made a decision. Other administration officials said in interviews the process of formulating a policy was in an early stage.
Bush "is committed to regime change" and is considering the use of anti-Saddam opposition forces, "military activity and other kinds of activity," Powell said.
"These options are under consideration," Powell told a House subcommittee that was reviewing the administration's budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that Bush's top advisers and relevant agencies had been directed to develop and refine a full range of options.
Fighting for freedom
The United States has not begun to make its case to other countries, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Bush declined to disclose details of options he is considering. He met with the Pakistani president during the day.
"I will keep them close to my vest," he said. "President Saddam Hussein needs to understand I am serious about defending our country."
Accelerating the U.S. decision-making process is that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction might be used in terrorist attacks on the United States, officials said.
Touching on this point, Bush said any alliance between terrorist organizations and terror-supporting nations with a history of pursuing nuclear or other destructive weapons would be "devastating for those of us who fight for freedom," and the United States would not tolerate it.
"We, the free world, must make it clear to these nations they have a choice to make," Bush said. "I will keep all options available if they don't make the choice."
CIA Director George Tenet is said to favor a plan that relies heavily on covert action.
Powell held out hope that the U.N. Security Council would adopt "smart sanctions" that would permit Iraq to import a wide range of goods that could ease the Iraqi people's plight.