- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday ridiculed press speculation about war against Iraq, which they dismissed as a "frenzy," but continued to call for the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I know there is this kind of intense speculation that seems to be going on," the president told reporters after meeting at his ranch with Mr. Rumsfeld and other military advisers. "It's kind of a churning."

"A frenzy," interjected Mr. Rumsfeld, who stood beside Mr. Bush on the 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch.

"'Frenzy' is how the secretary would describe it," Mr. Bush added. "But the subject didn't come up."

Mr. Bush said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, ground commander of the war in Afghanistan, did not attend yesterday's meeting.

"In the midst of the frenzy, I want you to note that General Franks is not here," Mr. Bush said. "General Franks is doing his job."

"And one of the jobs that the secretary of defense has tasked to members of his general staff is to prepare for all contingencies, whether it be in the particular country that you seem to be riveted in, or any other country, for that matter," the president added.

But even as he downplayed media speculation about war against Iraq, Mr. Bush made it clear that overthrowing Saddam remains a priority.

"Regime change is in the interests of the world," he said. "How we achieve that is a matter of consultation and deliberation, which I do. I'm a deliberate person."

"I'm a patient man," he said. "We will look at all options, and we will consider all technologies available to us and diplomacy and intelligence."

Mr. Bush called Saddam a "threat" who has failed to allay international concerns about Baghdad's intentions.

"Nothing he has done has convinced me," Mr. Bush said, "that he is the kind of fellow that is willing to forgo weapons of mass destruction, is willing to be a peaceful neighbor, that will honor the people the Iraqi people of all stripes."

Mr. Bush balked when an Associated Press reporter suggested there is a "growing number of U.S. allies Russia, Germany, Bahrain, now Canada who say that if you go to war with Saddam, you're going to go it alone."

"Your question makes certain assumptions that may or may not be true," Mr. Bush replied. "Not only will we consult with friends and allies, we'll consult with members of Congress."

When a reporter insisted that many U.S. allies have said they will not take the war against terrorism into Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld shot back: "The president has not asked them to."

Mr. Rumsfeld also dismissed speculation about dwindling international support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

"Our country has put together a coalition that stretches across the entire globe, that is addressing the problem of the global war on terrorism it is 80 or 90 countries," he said. "It's deep, it's impressive, and it is in fact what is helping the forward progress that we're achieving, the traction that we're getting with respect to dealing with the terrible, terribly difficult problem of a global terrorist network."

Mr. Rumsfeld's comments on the media "frenzy" about Iraq marked the second day in a row he has chided the press for obsessing about a hypothetical attack on Baghdad.

"I really do think that it's a mistake for the press and the media to focus excessively on this one subject and particularize everything to it," he told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. "I find that the debate and the discussion, the national dialogue, the international dialogue is a little out of balance."

He added that sometimes, "I'll give an interview and never mention the word Iraq, and I find that the whole interview is cast around Iraq."

White House officials warned reporters in advance that Iraq was not on the agenda of yesterday's meeting. After the meeting concluded, Mr. Bush told the first reporter to ask a question that the topic of Iraq was not broached. And yet Iraq was the dominant subject of subsequent press questions.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld explained that yesterday's meeting focused on military reforms and budgets.

There was also talk of accelerating deployment of a missile-defense shield now that the United States has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which barred such a deployment.

"The progress that our nation is making after our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty has been impressive," said Mr. Bush, who emphasized that progress is being shared with U.S. allies. "It's very important for people to see what is possible as we make the world more secure through our research and development."

Mr. Rumsfeld said testing of the system has intensified since the treaty was scrapped.

"We've had some pretty good success with both short-range missiles as well as longer-range missiles, intercepting them," he said. "The shorter-range defenses are more advanced."

Mr. Rumsfeld said he does not use the word "shield" because the system would "be able to deal with relatively limited numbers of ballistic missiles." Asked how long it would take to fully deploy a missile-defense system, he said, "That really is not knowable because you're in the research, development and testing phase."

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