- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

BRUSSELS Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld faces a tough sell at NATO meetings today and tomorrow, where he will try to convince the European allies of the need for tough action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The meetings mark the first leg of a trip that will also take the secretary to the Gulf states of Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait for talks on the Middle East, and then to South Asia to try to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld made clear during a stopover in London yesterday that the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction will be high on his agenda for the Brussels meetings.

"We know that the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq has had a sizable appetite for weapons of mass destruction," he said after meeting British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon. "Every month that goes by, their programs mature. That is not something that is a happy prospect for that region."

However, most European leaders and their publics remain skeptical about the need for military action to overthrow Saddam. That attitude was not much changed by President Bush's rallying cries during his whirlwind visit to the region late last month.

Many object that the United States offers military action but has provided few ideas about what will happen once Saddam's regime is toppled.

They are also worried about estimates attributed to Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, that the operation would require at least 200,000 U.S. troops and could result in heavy casualties.

"We need an idea of White House thinking which goes beyond slogans and the talk of smart bombs and invasion," said British commentator Henry Porter recently in the Sunday Observer.

"The White House has offered no post-Saddam vision for a country which contains 9 percent of the world's known oil reserves and … some of the most abused and terrorized people on earth."

U.S. officials reiterate that they are not at the stage where they are soliciting allies for possible operations against Iraq, nor have they drawn a war plan for a possible invasion.

Along with the threat from weapons of mass destruction, defense officials say, Mr. Rumsfeld will "stress the need … to restructure NATO's command system and adapt it to new threats."

A London Sunday Telegraph article, published in The Washington Times on Monday, said the United States is drafting plans for a number of small, highly mobile military units that could be deployed quickly to trouble spots.

The creation of such units, with U.S. troops participating, could undermine planning for a Rapid Reaction Force under the auspices of the European Union.

The Brussels meetings will include the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, whose formation was concluded during Mr. Bush's visit last month.

Other issues, such as further NATO expansion, the upgrading of forces in candidate countries, and increased burden-sharing between the United States and its NATO allies, will be discussed at a larger NATO summit in the Czech Republic in November.

Over the weekend, Mr. Rumsfeld will visit the German air base and German crews that manned AWACS aircraft to protect the skies over the United States after the September 11 terror attacks.

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