- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed deployment orders this weekend to dispatch 12 B-1 and 12 B-52 bombers from American bases to Guam, according to military sources. On Guam, they will be within quick striking distance of North Korea.

Reinforcing the Pacific region with bombers is a standard defensive practice meant to discourage North Korea from taking advantage of the U.S. military's current preoccupation with Iraq, a Pentagon official said.

"It's a prudent measure to bolster our defenses," an official said. "It is not an aggressive action but it sends a message to potential adversaries."

The orders were signed before four North Korea fighters intercepted and shadowed an American surveillance plane Saturday night, the official said.

"This is driven not by Pyongyang but by Baghdad," the official said.

Rumsfeld put the bombers on alert for deployment late last month.

The United States has about 250,000 military personnel deployed to the Persian Gulf region preparing for a strike on Iraq.

North Korea this week announced it restarted a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium that has been mothballed since 1994. It is also preparing to restart a reprocessing plant, which will convert the spent plutonium into weapons-grade material.

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