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US Hints Some NATO Support on Iraq After Secret Briefing - 2002-09-25

A NATO defense ministers' meeting has ended in Warsaw with the United States saying it has received unsolicited support from some of its allies for its stance against Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is trying to encourage the allies to prepare for new threats to their security, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Rumsfeld says he discussed Iraq with his 18 NATO colleagues over dinner Tuesday after a secret CIA briefing on Iraq's weapons program and what Washington insists is the threat emanating from Baghdad.

Asked by reporters if he had received offers of military or political support for the U.S. position, Mr. Rumsfeld said simply, yes, but did not specify the countries involved nor what kind of support they are willing to give.

He was also asked whether the briefing conducted by deputy CIA director John McLaughlin linked Iraq to the al-Qaida terrorist network that is blamed for last year's attacks on the United States. Mr. Rumsfeld again said yes but gave no further details.

Many NATO governments have said in the past that they have never been provided details on the links between Iraq and al-Qaida, but the U.S. defense secretary says all of the allies now have the same set of facts about the threat from Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

"Everyone is on notice," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "All now have a clear understanding of the threats that are posed."

He says Washington's aim is to stop another September 11 or, worse, an attack with weapons of mass destruction, before it happens.

"Whether that threat might come from a terrorist regime or a terrorist network or some combination of the two is beside the point," added Mr. Rumsfeld.

Most NATO allies have been reluctant to endorse any U.S. attack against Iraq unless it is backed up by a United Nations mandate. Mr. Rumsfeld insists that President Bush has not yet made a decision to take military action, but he says he is confident that some allies will support Washington. "You can be certain that, if and when the president decides to do something, there will be other nations assisting," he said.

Russia, which was also present at the Warsaw meeting in its new role as a NATO partner, says it is less worried about a potential threat from Iraq than it is about attacks against its territory by Chechen rebels who it says are hiding with impunity in neighboring Georgia.