- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met Saudi Arabia's leaders yesterday and made the case for a worldwide U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, including military attacks on Afghanistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld, making his first stop on a four-nation swing through the Middle East and Central Asia, said he told Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah that President Bush is engaged in a "long-term effort" to defeat international terrorism.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the problem will not be solved by a single country and will require intelligence-sharing and cooperation "from people all over the globe."

Asked if he has a handle on the location of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda terrorist group suspected of having carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "I have a little bit of a handle, but I don't have coordinates."

Such coordinates would be needed for launching missile strikes or a bombing campaign on the terrorist leader.

Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Sultan said the United States has not requested the use of Saudi bases for conducting military attacks on the Taliban. The issue was not discussed in meetings with Mr. Rumsfeld, he said.

"This matter wasn't a part of discussion between the two sides," Prince Sultan said after meetings with his U.S. counterparts.

Asked if he was concerned about possible U.S. attacks on Afghanistan using bases in Saudi Arabia, the defense minister said: "We did not discuss this matter with [Mr. Rumsfeld] because we do not feel that there are any specific strikes that are going to be taken against the Taliban."

Prince Sultan also said bin Laden has admitted to "certain terrorist actions."

"So we believe that he is a terrorist, he's a criminal," Prince Sultan said.

U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban regime, which rules most of Afghanistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld told Saudi leaders, including Prince Sultan, that "we are in the process of attempting to set the conditions for a sustained effort [and] that we intend to proceed on all fronts, using the full force of the United States government, and resources of our government and the resources of our friends and associates around the world."

The talks yesterday focused on various actions "present and future," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Saudi Arabia is a major hub for U.S. warplanes that operate out of Prince Sultan air base, north of Riyadh. Several hundred combat and surveillance aircraft have been sent here in preparation for military strikes on terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

A senior defense official said Mr. Rumsfeld made the visit here because of the preparations for military action, adding that despite the Saudi government's reservations about expressing public support for the Bush adminstration's war on terrorism, Saudi Arabia remains a key backer of the U.S. military in the region.

"We're happy with the relationship," the senior official said. "Things are going as expected."

Asked about the prospect of future military strikes, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "Oh, I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mind but that at some point that that too will be part of this process in some way."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the war against terrorism will be global, noting that bin Laden's al Qaeda network operates in 50 to 60 nations. "It isn't confined to a single nation or a single region, and all of the aspects of our effort will ultimately be seen and felt in all the regions of the world," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

He said intelligence cooperation from the countries near Afghanistan will be crucial to the success of the campaign.

"I really believe that before it's over, it's not going to be a cruise missile or a bomber that's going to be the determining factor," he said. "It's going to be a scrap of information from some person in some country that's been repressed by a dictatorial regime that's been sponsoring a terrorist organization, that's going to provide the kind of information that's going to enable us to pull this network up by its roots and end it."

U.S. forces will await for "actionable" intelligence before beginning military strikes, he added.

The Taliban, through its ambassador in Pakistan, repeated its demand yesterday that the United States provide proof of bin Laden's involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and once again Washington refused.

Mr. Rumsfeld praised Saudi Arabia's qualified backing for U.S. efforts, noting that some countries prefer to do things privately.

"I can assure you we are very appreciative of the public support that Saudi Arabia has given to the United States in this effort and the things they are doing to assist us," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld brushed aside concerns that Saudi Arabia might not allow U.S. bases here to be used for attacks on Afghanistan.

"To the extent nations are well-knitted together at the top, and have a good understanding and appreciation and thinking of the senior people, those kinds of things get worked out," he said, adding that any differences on the issue will be resolved by U.S. and Saudi defense officials.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said forces belonging to the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division are prepared to deploy to areas near Afghanistan. She denied a report in The Washington Post that the troops were already heading to the region.

"Several units are on a heightened state of alert, but they are not deploying at this time," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who was a special envoy to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan administration, was greeted upon his arrival last night by Prince Sultan, who is the country's deputy prime minister as well as defense minister.

Mr. Rumsfeld said on his way to Riyadh that he would not be seeking to negotiate with the Saudis regarding U.S. military plans.

Reports from Saudi Arabia and Egypt have indicated the governments in those countries have expressed qualified support for U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism.

Press reports from the region have stated that Saudi Arabia's government is refusing to allow U.S. military forces to conduct aircraft bombing raids from air bases in Saudi Arabia.

Regional governments can assist the U.S. effort in a variety of ways, ranging from diplomatic support to freezing banks accounts that fund terrorist networks, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"And to the extent that there are things that may or may not be done from a military standpoint, clearly it would be desirable for countries to participate in that," he said. "Furthermore, we want them to help by giving us intelligence."

Earlier, during the flight here, Mr. Rumsfeld said "time will tell" when asked if U.S. military strikes against terrorists and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan are inevitable.

The defense secretary spoke to reporters traveling with him to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and possibly the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, which could become a major staging area for U.S. forces conducting operations against terrorists in Afghanistan.

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