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Rumsfeld Makes Case Against Baghdad to NATO

Diplomacy: Secretary describes briefing for alliance as a compilation of intelligence data. It apparently also links Hussein to Al Qaeda.

September 25, 2002|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WARSAW — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a CIA official made what Rumsfeld described as a damning case against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to NATO members Tuesday, going beyond showing Hussein's persistent work on weapons of mass destruction to link his government to Al Qaeda.

The classified briefing largely mirrored the dossier British Prime Minister Tony Blair released Tuesday, U.S. defense officials said, but apparently also suggested that Hussein's government knows of and tolerates Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. President Bush used a similar connection--warning about "those who harbor terrorists"--to justify the war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which described Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a guest.

Rumsfeld said the briefing was a compilation of facts culled from intelligence gathered by the United States and other nations since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, rather than an analysis and conclusions. Asked if CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin drew a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda in his lengthy intelligence report to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Rumsfeld said, "Oh certainly." But he said detailing the link publicly would be "not helpful" to the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

He left open the prospect that NATO might participate in a potential war with Iraq, saying that since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the alliance "has accepted fully the risks" posed by weapons of mass destruction. Bush has said he based his policy of "regime change" in Iraq on intelligence assessments that Hussein has continued to develop the kinds of chemical weapons he has used on Iranian soldiers and Iraqi Kurds and that he is aggressively seeking nuclear weapons.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the briefing offered new and "highly sensitive information" that left some members asking tough and searching--but not necessarily hostile--questions.

"The detailed information that was presented today was sobering and, in many ways, not particularly surprising," Robertson told reporters afterward. "What we got was a contemporary briefing on the highest intelligence level on what the United States knows about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

Rumsfeld said he did not ask NATO members for support in a potential war with Iraq but expected his colleagues to come to the same conclusion the U.S. has: Hussein must go.

"I've always found that when people are working off the same set of facts, they tend to come to quite similar conclusions," he said. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts, but if you're all on the same sheet of music you tend to sing the same song."

The session failed to persuade French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who told reporters afterward that a war in Iraq could lead to upheaval among Muslims and would give other nations a justification for launching preemptive strikes.

"I think this is extremely dangerous because it could open all sorts of possibilities," she said.

Criticism of the Bush administration's campaign against Iraq by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and a now-resigned justice minister who was quoted as likening Bush to Hitler have created a rift between the U.S. and German administrations. Rumsfeld, who said Schroeder's comments against a potential war during his recent election campaign were poisoning the rapport between the two nations, declined an offer to meet with German Defense Minister Peter Struck in Warsaw. But Struck tracked Rumsfeld down in an effort to ease tensions.

"Yesterday, I shook Rumsfeld's hand, but this has to become more intensive," Struck said. "I think we'll return to a very normal working relationship, slowly but surely."

Struck said he hoped Germany's tentative plan, announced Tuesday, to join with Dutch military officials as the new leaders of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan would draw the nation closer to the United States, which has led the Afghan war.

As Rumsfeld and McLaughlin outlined U.S. intelligence on Iraq on the outskirts of Warsaw, a scythe-toting man dressed as the Grim Reaper and several dozen other demonstrators gathered at the city center and marched to the U.S. Embassy, where an Iraqi wrapped himself in his nation's flag, to protest the potential war.

Robertson said he was not surprised by Rumsfeld's statement that he had not considered involving NATO in a potential war on Iraq.

"It hasn't really crossed my mind either, and no proposal was put on the subject today, so it's not really crossing anybody's mind at the moment," Robertson said.

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