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Rumsfeld: Iraq's Capabilities and Intentions Are Well Documented - 2002-09-13

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says those demanding fresh evidence of the military threat posed by Iraq are misguided or seeking to delay possible international actions against Baghdad. VOA Pentagon correspondent Alex Belida, who interviewed Mr. Rumsfeld Friday.

In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have hinted Washington has new evidence of Iraq's drive to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction. They have also hinted Washington might soon release some of the fresh details.

But in an interview with a small group of radio reporters, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to provide anything new. Instead, he said Iraq's capabilities and intentions are already well documented.

"To have an insatiable appetite for new, fresh evidence when the landscape is littered with evidence in multiple languages, it strikes me it would be a mistake to run around in circles trying to do that," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized there is, in his view, no debate about whether Iraq has used weapons of mass destruction or whether it continues to try and develop them or whether it remains a threat to its neighbors. "We all know that," he added. "A trained ape knows that. All you have to do is read the newspaper."

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke shortly after senior defense officials warned again that Iraq could soon field a missile capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction to targets in Israel, Turkey and all of the Gulf region.

The officials also disclosed Iraq could field a nuclear weapon quickly if it obtains fissile material. And they said Iraq has mobile laboratories to make chemical or biological weapons.

Still Mr. Rumfeld says President Bush has made no decisions on possible unilateral American military action against Iraq. And he insists Washington is not motivated by any desire to punish Baghdad just for the sake of punishing what it sees as an outlaw, rogue regime. "This isn't retaliation or retribution," he said. "That isn't what the United States of America is about."

Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed published reports about U.S. military activities in the Gulf - reports suggesting armed action against Iraq could be imminent.

But he hinted he may soon approve a permanent transfer of the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command from the southern state of Florida to the Mideast, the area it is responsible for. Mr. Rumsfeld said Central Command Commander General Tommy Franks has been pressing him for months for approval to make the move.

Centcom, as it is known, has already disclosed it is transferring hundreds of its key headquarters personnel to Qatar for an exercise later this year. Officials have conceded the personnel could stay on, the possible core of a battle staff for an invasion of Iraq.

There are currently has some 55,000 U.S. military personnel in the Centcom region. The biggest concentrations, numbering several thousand each, are in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The United States has also prepositioned military equipment and ammunition throughout the region.

In addition to the command-and-control exercise scheduled in Qatar, U.S. military officials say they have at least two other major exercises planned before the end of the year in the region, an amphibious exercise in Kuwait and a Special Operations exercise in Jordan.