Posted by Jeff from bgp01107368bgs.wbrmfd01.mi.comcast.net (22.214.171.124) on Wednesday, June 05, 2002 at 1:43PM :
Threat From Iraq Deemed Growing
Wed Jun 5, 2:05 PM ET
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
LONDON (AP) - Iraq poses an increasing threat that must be met, the defense chiefs of the United States and Britain said Wednesday, showing growing impatience with Saddam Hussein (news - web sites),
"We know that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq has had a sizable appetite for weapons of mass destruction" and is finding ways to acquire the ingredients, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said.
"We know the borders into that country are quite porous," he added, allowing Iraq to import technologies with applications in both civilian and military industries as well as illicit materials.
"There is not a doubt in the world that with every month that goes by their programs mature," he said.
Iraq denies it has or is developing any weapons of mass destruction, but it has refused to allow the international inspections that it agreed to accept as a condition of ending the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites).
Rumsfeld would not discuss the possibility of U.S. military action to topple Saddam's government, saying that was a matter for President Bush (news - web sites ) to decide. He spoke at a joint news conference with British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon after meetings to discuss Iraq and other issues.
Rumsfeld and Hoon both expressed their governments' hope for a lowering of tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan. Rumsfeld's stop in London was the first on a 10-day journey that is to take him to the Indian and Pakistani capitals next week.
For months the Bush administration has been publicly making the case for taking strong action ? possibly military ? against Iraq, but allied nations have been slow to offer support.
In Washington on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said his fellow Democrats support a push to unseat Saddam. "The question is when and how and under what circumstances," Daschle said.
A day earlier, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt volunteered his support if the administration resorted to force. "I share President Bush's resolve to confront this menace head-on," he said.
Also on Tuesday, Bush said that "one option, of course, is the military option." The president added, however, he had no plans to attack.
Hoon described the Iraqi military threat as increasing in recent weeks. Asked in a later interview to elaborate, Hoon said Iraq's air defenses are more aggressively trying to shoot down the U.S. and British pilots who regularly fly combat air patrols over northern and southern Iraq.
Pilots have reported attacks in recent week by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. The allied planes have responded by bombing various elements of Iraq's air defense system.
Since the start of U.S. and British enforcement of the "no fly" zones more than a decade ago, Iraq has considered them a violation of its sovereignty and has vowed to shoot down planes.
Hoon said that immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States there was a marked decline in Iraqi targeting of allied pilots.
"We judged that the regime in Iraq seemed to have got the message ? that military action would follow if they were not very careful," Hoon said in an interview with reporters accompanying him and Rumsfeld aboard an Air Force jet from London to Brussels, Belgium.
The recent aggressiveness would suggest a new, more worrisome Iraqi attitude, Hoon said.
"Clearly they are feeling a little more confident than they have in the recent past," he said.
Hoon said the United States and Britain "can only be deeply suspicious" of how far Saddam has progressed in developing weapons of mass destruction as long as United Nations (news - web sites) inspectors are not allowed to freely monitor Iraq's military facilities.
He said the best answer to the problem is to return U.N. inspectors, with Iraqi consent to freely monitor military facilities suspected of developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapon. Rumsfeld has cast doubt on that approach, asserting that previous efforts at U.N. monitoring accomplished little because of Iraqi denial and deception.
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