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Rumsfeld Denies US Seeks Access to Military Bases in Iraq - 2003-04-21


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States is not considering any long-term military presence in Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld delivered a spirited denial of a front-page New York Times article Sunday which claimed the United States plans a long-term military relationship with Iraq that will grant the Pentagon access to key bases.

Mr. Rumsfeld calls the article unhelpful and "flat false."

"We have no desire to be there for long periods, we simply don't," he said. "That's just a cold, hard fact."

The secretary goes on to say the topic of a permanent or even long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq has not even come up in senior-level discussions.

"I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed, in any meeting," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges the United States is now reassessing its post-war military footprint in the Middle East and Gulf region. But he says it unlikely the Pentagon will even have to consider any new bases.

"We have got all kinds of options and opportunities in that part of the world to locate forces," he said. "It's not like we need a new place."

Mr. Rumsfeld says he fears the New York Times article may send an inaccurate impression to Iraqis already concerned about a possible long-term U.S. military occupation.

"I think any impression that is left, which that article left, that the United States plans some sort of permanent presence in that country, I think is a signal to the people of that country that's inaccurate and unfortunate because we don't plan to function as an occupier, we don't plan to prescribe to any new government how we ought to be arranged in their country," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says U.S. forces are still facing resistance in Iraq from death squads, foreign fighters and others he call "dead-enders" who refuse to stop fighting.

But he says more Iraqis are now coming forward to help coalition troops capture such gunmen as well to locate hidden weapons caches.

Still, Mr. Rumsfeld could not confirm another published New York Times report that an Iraqi scientist has revealed the location of buried supplies of chemical ingredients needed to produce illegal weapons.

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