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Travel dispute

Pentagon officials were privately upset that a member of Congress sought to arrange separate military transportation for members of the Congressional Black Caucus to travel together to the funeral of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, to be held Monday in Los Angeles.

One member of the caucus, who was not identified further, asked the Army through private channels to host the travel to Los Angeles solely for caucus members. Mrs. McDonald, a member of the caucus and a California Democrat, died last weekend.

The Pentagon, however, had begun working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office to provide a jet, hosted by the Navy, for all interested members, not just those belonging to the caucus.

After questions were raised about the separate flight by the Pentagon, Mrs.

Pelosi's office declined the request for a separate aircraft for the caucus.

Officials close to the dispute said the caucus member sought the separate aircraft because he prefers to travel with Army hosts and sought to use his personal contacts to arrange for the plane.

Tiana Barrett, a spokeswoman for the caucus, said the group made no separate request for military aircraft through its chairman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat.

Nadem Elshami, a spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, said a congressional delegation to California is being organized by the sergeant-at-arms and that two aircraft are said to be available. However, Mr. Elshami said he was unaware of the dispute over the aircraft, or of the separate request for an Army plane for the caucus.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman dismissed the dispute as "mischief" by someone.

"The department has been in contact with the speaker's office since the death of the member," he wrote in an e-mail. "We have offered unqualified support and have two aircraft that seat 46 and 36 members, respectively. We had one airplane for Saturday but the funeral changed to Monday. We were told that there were 50 members slated to travel, which is why we obtained the second plane." The Pentagon, he said, "never refused aircraft support for this mission." The issue of military travel is especially sensitive for the House speaker, whose request for a military jet that could fly nonstop from Washington to her home district of San Francisco was rejected by the Pentagon in February.

F-22s to Japan A senior White House National Security Council (NSC) official said this week that the United States is ready to sell advanced warplanes to Japan but declined to endorse sales of the ultramodern F-22 warplane. The issue is expected to be raised in the summit meeting between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week.

"We are very positively disposed to talking to the Japanese about future generation fighter aircraft," said Dennis Wilder, the NSC staff Asia director.

However, Mr. Wilder said that "whether it's going to be one model or another of aircraft is an open question at this point." "It's something for the experts to look at, to figure out which of the many superb aircraft we have suit Japan's needs most," he said. "So I think really, that will be a question for the experts." A defense official said Mr. Wilder privately opposes the sale of the F-22 to Japan because it likely would upset China.

Japan is said to be ready to purchase up to 100 F-22s, a fifth-generation fighter-bomber that has radar-evading stealth capabilities.

The Air Force would like to sell the plane to U.S. allies, including Japan, because greater production numbers would lower costs. However, congressional restrictions prohibit foreign sales of the aircraft and would need to be lifted before exports to Japan can take place.

Mr. Wilder sought to play down Japan's concerns about China's rapid military buildup, noting that Beijing's growing military power is a concern to Tokyo.

"On the other hand, there are tremendous opportunities for American and Japanese business in dealing with China in bringing China into the international community in a positive role and I am sure this will be a topic that the two leaders will discuss," said Mr. Wilder, a former CIA analyst on China's military who in the past has been accused by co-workers of bias in playing down China's military.

Asked about the danger of a conflict over Taiwan, Mr. Wilder said China's buildup of missiles and other weapons has caused concern that "Beijing may at some point be tempted to coercion." Both the United States and Japan want to dissuade China from the temptation to attack the island.

Taiwan likely will be discussed at the summit because both countries are "like-minded democracies who see democratic development on Taiwan as a positive thing, and we want to help them keep that democracy vibrant and alive." Japan's interest in the F-22 was first reported in this space.

North Korea watch U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the nuclear reactor facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, for any signs that Pyongyang is preparing to shut down the system as part of the agreement reached Feb. 13 in Beijing.

"There is no evidence to indicate, nor is there reason to believe, that it has shut down," said a U.S. official who is knowledgeable on the issue.

The official dismissed Asian press reports that increased activity near Yongbyon was an indication that North Korea was preparing to halt activity at the reactor site that U.S. intelligence agencies think already has produced up to 110 pounds of plutonium, enough for six or seven bombs.

The Yongbyon shutdown was due April 14 under the pact, but North Korea has not followed through, claiming it will not do so until Macao's Banco Delta Asia released about $25 million in North Korean money that was sanctioned by the Treasury Department under USA Patriot Act money-laundering provisions.

A second official said there were no new surprises as North Korea held a major military parade on Wednesday to mark the founding of the million-man army.

Some officials suspected Pyongyang would show off its long-range Taepodong-2, but the only missiles were North Korea's short-range Scud variants, the official said.

Tough news Army Gen. David H. Petraeus sent a letter to U.S. troops serving in Iraq shortly after the Pentagon announcement that tours of duty for combat troops had been extended.

"This was, I know, tough news for many of you," Gen. Petraeus said in the April 14 letter. "It was particularly difficult news as a leak of this action back in Washington meant that your chain of command was unable to notify you or your families before the extension was reported in the press." Gen. Petraeus said the extensions were needed as part of the surge of 21,500 troops and were "absolutely necessary to our ability to accomplish our mission." He noted that his current assignment as commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq is his fourth "year-or-longer" deployment since 2001.

Gen. Petraeus echoed his comments of the past few days in the letter, noting that there have been positive results, but that a lot of work remains. "Your visible presence alongside Iraqi soldiers and police has begun to restore a sense of normalcy to many areas that have seen little other than violence over the past year," he said.

Large weapons caches have been uncovered, death squads and car-bomb networks have been stopped and "commerce in many markets and neighborhoods" is returning.

Continued targeted bombings by terrorists, however are a harsh reminder that "we face a barbaric, thinking enemy," he said.

Gen. Petraeus said, "Now more than ever it is crucial that we remain mission focused and mentally tough." * Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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