The man likely to command U.S. forces in any attack on Iraq is refusing to be drawn into the debate over whether there are concrete links between Iraq's government and the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists the evidence of links between Baghdad and al-Qaida is indisputable, or "bulletproof," as he puts it.
General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, has now appeared to challenge that view, describing the discussion of connections between Iraq and al-Qaida as "speculation."
But in a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday, the General went on to make clear that as a military commander, the issue of connections for him is an irrelevant one. He says there is a distinct threat.
"It doesn't make any difference whether it's al-Qaida or other terrorist capability. The fact is that the nexus of state sponsorship with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is a present and growing danger," the general said.
The four-star Army General went on to say he believes any eventual U.S. military action against Iraq will be supported by a coalition of countries.
He said the U.S. preference is to work with the international community and he said he believes many nations perceive Iraq as a growing threat. "My sense is that we have a great many friends, partners and allies who see the situation the same way we do," Mr. Franks said.
But General Franks skirted the question of whether those partners would agree to join the United States in a coalition if the United Nations does not first adopt a new resolution targeted against Baghdad and its weapons programs.
The General also emphasized that President Bush has made no decision yet on whether to undertake any military action against Iraq.