- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

ROME, Feb. 7 (UPI) — "Momentum is building" for the forcible disarmament of Iraq if necessary, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said while traveling to two days of meetings with his European counterparts.

"This is a critical time. And needless to say anyone who looks at what's taking place can see that momentum is building with respect to the effort to get Iraq to disarm," Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Italy where he stopped before heading to the meeting site in Munich, Germany.

With close to 150,000 American military personnel arrayed near the Persian Gulf, time is heavy on Rumsfeld's mind and is the bulk of his message to the gathered ministers.

"The one thing needs to be put into better focus is the issue of time. One could make a very strong case that time is desirable if in fact Iraq were cooperating, but the idea that it takes a long time to determine if Iraq is cooperating is obviously — it answers itself. It doesn't take a long time to determine that," he said.

The longer the United Nations gives Iraq to prove it has disarmed — when in the U.S. government's view it clearly has not — the closer the organization comes to irrelevancy, Rumsfeld suggested.

"To the extent the international community makes a decision to not give Iraq one final opportunity as they said in Resolution 1441, but to give him another final opportunity and still another final opportunity, and add to the 12 years where the community has worked through diplomatic efforts, why, it adversely affects the international community and its credibility," he said.

Rumsfeld will meet with the defense ministers of Russia, Georgia — where the United States is helping with counter-terrorism training — Norway, India and Germany.

He said he does not intend to discuss Iraq with the German defense minister, a frequent and vociferous critic of the U.S. policy toward Iraqi disarmament.

"They have been very explicit," Rumsfeld said. "They have defined their position."

Neither will he be pressing France for its support.

"There's no hard sell. They are going to have to make up their own minds and they have," he said. "I don't know what France will do."

He downplayed the split of two of NATO's largest members.

"Every time there is issue about someone not agreeing with someone people kind of tend to believe, well, my goodness, is this something major happening?" he said.

"This has been going on since the beginning of the alliance. I think when you have that many nations the fact that one or two, as seems to be the case, have different views, they are sovereign nations an have any views they want. I think too over dramatize it probably is not historically correct."

Nevertheless, he suggested that the "courageous" letter sent by eight NATO members and prospective members, followed by a letter signed by the "Vilnius 10" — Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania — suggests a shift is coming in the power politics of the 54-year-old alliance. With 19 members, NATO is expected to grow to 26 with the addition of seven Eastern European countries.

"If all of the progress continues the center of gravity is shifting in the alliance and the energy and vitality and interest and enthusiasm that the countries that had lived under repressive regimes previously is a good thing for NATO," Rumsfeld said. "And I think every member of NATO believes that or we wouldn't have expanded the way we have."

Rumsfeld raised international hackles by suggesting in a recent news conference with foreign journalists that there is a difference between "old Europe" and "new" Europe — as reflected in those two letters — on Iraq and perhaps other matters.

"I tried to put it in perspective, is all," he demurred.

Rumsfeld said his appearance at Wehrkunde, the gathering of NATO and more recently other nations' defense ministers as well, will make him available to answer questions raised Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation against Iraq to the U.N. Security Council.




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