- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

The White House insisted yesterday that President Bush has no plans to discuss military action against Iraq during a meeting tomorrow with top military advisers at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that despite "breathless speculation" about a strike against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the meeting's agenda does not include Baghdad.
"Now, can I guarantee you that that word will never come up? No, of course not," Mr. Fleischer said. "But the purpose of the meeting, the focus of the meeting, is much bigger than that."
Another possible topic for discussion is a newly discovered cache of al Qaeda videotapes. The tapes, obtained by CNN in Afghanistan, show what are purported to be terrorist training techniques and fatal chemical-weapons experiments on dogs, three of which are shown being killed.
In one of the tapes, shown repeatedly by CNN on Sunday and yesterday, a vapor enters a closed space and a dog begins salivating an early sign that it has been poisoned. The dog then appears to lose control of its hindquarters and is shown lying on its back, moaning.
The videos will be reviewed by "appropriate officials" in the administration, Mr. Fleischer told The Washington Times.
"It's another reminder of the type of enemy that we face in the war on terror," he said. "This underscores why it's so important to pursue the war on terror and to win it."
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House's Office of Homeland Security, said the videos demonstrated that al Qaeda "would use chemical weapons if they're able to obtain them." But he added that the tapes did not suggest that the group had acquired usable weapons.
Al Qaeda has lacked the ability to disperse chemical weapons over wide areas essential for killing large populations and this is still believed to be the case, a senior Bush administration official told the Associated Press yesterday.
CNN also aired in Asia portions of a separate tape it obtained of a May 26, 1998, news conference that was restricted to selected Pakistani journalists and one Chinese writer and at which Osama bin Laden declared war on the West and Israel.
"By God's grace, we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews," bin Laden said through an interpreter.
At another point in the broadcast, monitored early today in Hong Kong, bin Laden says just weeks before the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that his men will kill Americans.
"By God's will, their actions are going to have a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them," bin Laden said.
Part of the U.S. administration's strategy in dealing with the terrorist use of chemical or other weapons of mass destruction entails accelerating plans for a missile-defense shield now that the United States has withdrawn from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. That acceleration will be discussed at the meeting tomorrow.
"The United States is free to proceed in a more vigorous fashion, a more robust fashion, to develop a missile defense to protect the country," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Bush will get updates on deployment timetables during his meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
Also present will be National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In addition, the president wants to discuss something that was in the works before September 11 an ambitious plan to modernize the Defense Department.
"This was a major priority, something the president established as a top priority as a candidate," Mr. Fleischer said. "And then there was a lot of work under way throughout 2001 focused on transformation."
Although that work was interrupted by the terrorist attacks and America's counterattack, there is now a renewed focus on military reforms.
"This is part of the policy-planning process, particularly heading into the budget cycle, which will begin in earnest in the fall, heading into the winter months," Mr. Fleischer said. "And so the Department of Defense will come down here with an eye toward the big issue of transformation, the big-picture point of view."
The August military meeting at the president's Prairie Chapel Ranch is becoming something of an annual tradition for the Bush administration. A similar meeting was held last year, when the United States was constrained by the ABM Treaty from building a missile-defense shield.
Mr. Bush withdrew from that treaty late last year, prompting warnings from Democrats and the media that the move would spark a new arms race. Instead, the United States and Russia agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
Although Mr. Bush was not expected to discuss Iraq at the meeting tomorrow, he remains committed to the policy of regime change in Baghdad, Mr. Fleischer said.
"I'm not going to speculate about any potential next steps," he said. "However, the president has been very clear that Saddam Hussein continues to pose a threat to peace, and it's a threat that the president intends to continue to consult with leaders about, continue to talk to the Congress about, as he makes up his mind about what is the best way to deal with the threat."
Mr. Fleischer also shrugged off commentators who are urging the administration to exercise restraint.
"I tell you, the president doesn't look at the many voices that he's hearing about Iraq as critics," he said. "He looks at them as thoughtful people who have a lot of experience, who also recognize the menace that's posed by Saddam Hussein, the threat that is posed."
"And he views this as a constructive part of a process where the country benefits from a variety of thoughts and opinions, much of which are much closer to what the president is thinking than I think some of the reports have been," Mr. Fleischer added.
"Time is not on our side," he said. "Saddam Hussein, left unchecked, has shown a willingness in the past to use weapons, including weapons of mass destruction."
"The American people support regime change because they recognize the threat that Saddam Hussein poses," he added. "The president has surrounded himself with a security team that is wise, that is deliberative and that is strong. And it's a team that will act to protect our country."

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