- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

China and Iraq are denying U.S. reports that Beijing is building a fiber-optic air defense network for Baghdad, but President Bush said yesterday the two nations' military activity is "troubling."

"We're concerned about Chinese presence in Iraq, and my administration is sending the appropriate response to the Chinese," Mr. Bush told reporters. "Yes, it's troubling that they'd be involved in helping Iraq develop a system that will endanger our pilots."

Earlier in Beijing, Zhu Bangzao, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied China violated U.N. sanctions in Iraq and charged the United States and Britain violated U.N. rules with their air strikes Feb. 16.

"The U.S. has ulterior motives by alleging that China is aiding Iraq's air defense system, and this move will be futile," Mr. Zhu was quoted by the official People's Daily newspaper as saying.

The spokesman's statement did not deny China was involved in the Iraqi fiber-optic communications network.

On Wednesday, Jamil Ibrahim Ali, Iraq's secretary of state for transport and telecommunications, denied any Chinese workers are in the country. "There are no Chinese experts working in the field of telecommunications in Iraq," he said.

He dismissed U.S. charges about the activity as "cheap lies."

Asked during yesterday's White House press conference if he is convinced about the Chinese-Iraqi military ties, Mr. Bush said: "Well, we think that may be the case. Let me just tell you this: It's risen to the level where we're going to send a message to the Chinese."

Mr. Bush said the Feb. 16 raids were successful in highlighting his administration's aggressive stance on Iraq and diminishing air defense threats against U.S. pilots over Iraq.

"We got his (Saddam's) attention," the president said. "I believe we succeeded in both of those missions."

Mr. Bush said "many nations" in the Middle East are not abiding by sanctions in place on Iraq since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. "And as a result, a lot of goods are heading into Iraq that were not supposed to," he said. "And so good sanction policy is one where the United States is able to build a coalition around the strategy."

Pentagon officials said the Chinese are building a fiber-optic communications network in Iraqi that would link Iraqi air defense radar around the country. The underground fiber-optic cables are less vulnerable to air strikes than analog or digital cable.

The attacks by U.S. and British jets were successful in knocking out seven communications "nodes" for the air defense grid, although bombing raids on radar sites were less successful.

Pentagon officials said the raid was conducted on a Friday as a way to minimize casualties, including possible Chinese military and civilian technicians in Iraq who were working on the communications grid.

Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes attacked air defense sites in northern Iraq yesterday. The raids were carried out in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and radar targeting of U.S. warplanes, Pentagon officials said.

Defense officials said fewer than half of the Navy's high-technology guided bombs used in the raids hit their targets and some fell far from the targeted radar sites.

The guided bombs, called JSOWs, for Joint Stand-Off Weapons, are dropped from aircraft and guided by satellite navigation systems.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters that some of the bombs missed their targets. "We fired these weapons at a distance of dozens of miles," he said. "We know that every weapon used in the raid did not perform 100 percent."

Most of the errant bombs were launched from Navy F-18 jets based on the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf. The bombs are called "fire-and-forget" weapons because they can be dropped up to 50 miles from their targets and then maneuvered using satellite navigation systems.


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