Gen. Colin Powell said Monday the United States will demand that Iraq account fully for all American soldiers missing in action or held prisoner.

Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars the United States would not let the POW issue drag on."For those American families who still anxiously await word of a loved one missing in action or held prisoner, I make this pledge: In this war, it won't be over until we get a full and immediate accounting of all our POWs and MIAs," Powell said.

Some American troops taken prisoner during the Vietnam War are still unaccounted for, an issue that continues to hinder relations between the United States and Vietnam.

Powell told the veterans that the commander of U.S. troops in the gulf, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, "laid to rest the ghosts of Vietnam" with his lightning victory.

"It's great to have a clean win, isn't it?" Powell said to rousing cheers.

He said the United States "will use our victory to build a stable peace in that troubled region. We were never at war with the Iraqi people. We hope a regime will emerge in Baghdad that is committed finally to living in peace with its neighbors."

President Bush, weighing how to secure the peace in the Middle East, is mapping plans for a series of meetings with allied leaders, an administration official said Monday.

Bush began his day Monday with his regular briefings with his intelligence and national security advisers, and was expected to speak about the POWs in an address to leaders of veterans' organizations.

U.S. officials said Sunday they can live with Saddam Hussein still in charge in Baghdad, but Iraq can expect harsher peace terms if he does not surrender power.

Bush's top lieutenants, making the rounds of television talk shows, voiced hopes that the allied victory in the Persian Gulf might build momentum for a breakthrough in solving the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

White House chief of staff John Sununu said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation" that the United States "is not uncomfortable" with the idea of Saddam seeking asylum outside Iraq, but "there's no way one country can absolve (him) of international crimes."

Secretary of State James Baker, who leaves Wednesday on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East and Soviet Union, said the United States wants to leave the job of policing the region primarily to its Arab partners.

He said the United States may need to increase its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, preposition supplies and leave "air assets" so that, if necessary, defending allies again will be "a little bit easier than . . . this time."