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September 3, 2002

Rumsfeld: Iraq threat grows over past year
By Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent

     WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses more of a threat to the United States and the Arab World now than a year ago, and denied that there was any rift in the administration over how to deal with him.
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     "The short answer is yes, there is a difference today from a year ago," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
     But he declined to provide any evidence of an increased threat, and a senior military official at the Pentagon told United Press International last week that there is no new "smoking gun" evidence that Iraq is closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago. The official said the case against Saddam is largely the same as it was before Sept. 11, but the personal view of the people reading the same facts influences their perception of the threat posed by Iraq.
     Rumsfeld said it would be up to President George W. Bush to decide whether evidence should be released in the coming weeks, if he decides to order a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
     "Those are the kinds of things that would come out if and when the president decides that he thinks it's appropriate," Rumsfeld said.
     His statement came the day that British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would shortly publish evidence showing that Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction.
     The Bush administration's public case for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, thus far, has been largely circumstantial. And it has been based not on newly revealed intelligence but on Saddam's documented appetite for chemical, biological and nuclear arms and the absence of U.N. arms inspections for the last four years.
     "To the extent that they have kept their nuclear scientists together and working on these efforts, one has to assume they have not been playing tiddly-winks, that they have been focusing on nuclear weapons. And so we know what we know," Rumsfeld said.
     Rumsfeld also indicated the administration may not be looking for iron-clad intelligence that Iraq has a nuclear weapon or an intention to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States -- or Iraq's neighbors -- before it makes a decision to go to war.
     "You may want that kind of knowledge in a law enforcement case, where we're interested in protecting the rights of the accused. You may have a different conclusion if you're talking about the death of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children," Rumsfeld said.
     Rumsfeld dismissed Tuesday's overtures by Iraq's foreign minister to the United Nations about possible resumption of arms inspections as "manipulation."
     "You'll find at the last moment they'll withdraw that carrot or that opportunity and go back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community," he said.
     At the weekend, a portion of an interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell, released by the British Broadcasting Corp., led to speculation that there might be differences within the administration over how to deal with Hussein -- specifically over whether the United States should support the return of U.N. inspectors.
     "The president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return," Powell told the BBC. "As a first step, let's see what the inspectors find."
     Many commentators saw this at odds with the view of Vice President Dick Cheney, who earlier last week told an audience of U.S. military veterans that the return of inspectors "would provide no assurance whatsoever," and actually presented "a great danger that it would provide false comfort."
     Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and -- separately -- Rumsfeld, both denied that there was any split in the administration.
     Fleischer said Bush believes inspections should resume: "The president thinks that Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the commitments that Saddam Hussein pledged he would live up to. Saddam Hussein said he would allow inspectors in. Saddam Hussein has not lived up to that commitment," he said.
     "Anyone who goes out of here thinking that there's some difference between anything I'm saying and what Colin said I think is -- would be a total misunderstanding of the situation," Rumsfled said.
     Both men also stressed that the resumption of arms inspections would not put to rest administration concerns about Iraq.
     "The policy of the United States is regime change, with or without inspectors," Fleischer said.
     A resumption of arms inspections after nearly four years would do little to advance that end and might even slow it by placating the concerns of the world community, he suggested, referring to "those people who, by the presence of inspectors alone, would conclude that Saddam Hussein is now back in accordance with his U.N. commitments."
     Rumsfeld was similarly skeptical about the utility of trying to force a return of U.N. inspectors, suggesting that Iraq would never accept an inspection regime rigorous enough to satisfy the United States.
     "To fulfill the import of the U.N. resolutions and the understandings that were agreed upon, it would require an inspection regime of such intrusiveness that ... it's unlikely, I think, that those folks would be inclined to agree to even half of it," he said Tuesday.
     Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, the Bush administration's special envoy for the moribund Mideast peace process, told a Florida audience in August he believed the civilians in the government are "hell bent" for war with Iraq but the generals -- he named only retired officers like Secretary of State Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf -- are more reluctant.
     "It might be interesting to wonder why all the generals see it the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger and really hell-bent to go to war see it a different way. That's usually the way it is in history," Zinni said on Aug. 23 in a speech to the Florida Economic Club.
     Also Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, facing a growing tide of political and public opposition to military action against Iraq, said he would go public within the next few weeks with a dossier of evidence against Saddam proving he is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Back to UPI

Updated at 11:32 p.m.

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