- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

The Bush administration insisted yesterday it has no plans to use nuclear weapons but said it reserves the right to a "full range of options" in response to threats from other countries.

Russia demanded an explanation and China said it was "deeply shocked" by reports about U.S. contingency plans to target them, along with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Syria.

But Vice President Richard B. Cheney sought to assure the agitated world community that Washington had no immediate plans to use its nuclear arsenal. He described the press reports over the weekend, which quoted classified nuclear posture review texts, as "a bit over the top."

"Right now, today, the United States on a day-to-day basis does not target nuclear weapons on any nation," Mr. Cheney said at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, at the start of a 10-day, 12-nation tour of the Europe and the Middle East.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the nuclear review's main conclusion is that the United States will still have "enough [weapons] left to do a lot of damage," even after the cuts President Bush pledged to make in November.

"The policy is one to deter threats against the United States and deter others from trying to use weapons of mass destruction," he told reporters. "We are able to reduce the operationally deployed weapons by two-thirds, but we still have to maintain a deterrent."

During Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to the United States four months ago, Mr. Bush pledged to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads from the current level of nearly 7,000 Mr. Putin responded with a similar proposal, which would bring Moscow's arsenal down to between 1,500 and 2,000 warheads, from nearly 6,000.

Mr. Boucher said yesterday the recommendations in the nuclear posture review, which was ordered by Congress, addressed the role the remaining weapons would play in the United State's military capabilities.

"Within that reduced level of operationally deployed forces, one does have to look at the threats that are out there and make sure that we are prepared to deal with contingencies, so that the president has a full range of options as he deals with the threats, including the developing threats of weapons of mass destruction in the world," he said.

In an interview with The Washington Times last month, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, said, "We would do whatever is necessary to defend America's innocent civilian population."

In case of an attack on the United States, "we would have to do what is appropriate under the circumstances, and the classic formulation of that is, we are not ruling anything in and we are not ruling anything out," he said.

The weekend press reports, the first of which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, provoked strong reaction overseas.

"If it is true, it can only give rise to regret and concern, not only from Russia but from the entire world community," said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. "Such a plan can destabilize the situation and make it more tense."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking to reporters in Ireland on his way to the United States, said he expected further explanations. He said he would put his questions directly to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said, "China, like other countries, is deeply shocked" to be a target in Washington's contingency plan.

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