U.S. President George W. Bush meets this week at his Texas ranch with his top national security advisors. White House officials say the discussions will cover a range of topics and that the gathering was not called to focus on Iraq.
This is the president's first meeting with his national security team since he headed to Texas on August 6.
Wednesday's session comes at a time of heightened speculation about possible U.S. military action against Iraq. But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the talks will center on other matters.
Mr. Fleischer predicts they will focus on the military budget, and the development of a missile defense system. Under questioning from reporters he said there is always the possibility Iraq could come up, but he quickly added the participants will be looking at military matters in broad terms. "The purpose is to talk big picture," he said.
Still, those in attendance will all play a key role in any future planning regarding Iraq. Among those expected to take part in the meeting are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and General Richard Myers, the nation's top military officer.
The president has been digesting their advice on Iraq over recent months. And Ari Fleischer stressed he wants to hear more views in the days to come, as he sifts through his options for dealing with Baghdad.
Mr. Fleischer said the president continues to believe a regime change is necessary in Iraq and something must be done to remove the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's intentions to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction.
During a brief session with reporters near the president's ranch, the White House spokesman was asked if the new Russian trade deal with Iraq sets back efforts to win international support for U.S. policy towards Baghdad.
Mr. Fleischer said the agreement is in accordance with existing United Nations sanctions against Iraq, adding the Bush administration expects Russia to continue to live up to its U.N. obligations.