Rumsfeld seeking to bolster anti-terrorism coalition
SHANNON, Ireland (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday his trip to the Middle East and Central Asia is aimed at shoring up support for the United States' declared war against terrorist networks.
Rumsfeld had a stopover in Ireland on his way to hold talks with political and military leaders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan.
Rumsfeld said he will not be negotiating with Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries on his three-day itinerary. Instead, he said his mission is to solidify old relationships and, in the case of Uzbekistan, forge a new one.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Rumsfeld said he would not be pressing the Saudi government to be any more than a silent partner in the war on terrorism.
"We're not going to making requests of the Saudi Arabian government. We are respectful of the circumstance of the countries of the region. We understand that," Rumsfeld said. "Our interest is to create a set of conditions, a sustained effort against terrorist networks in the region."
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters that despite reports the Saudis were resisting helping the United States in its fight against terrorism, they have responded favorably to all requests the United States has made.
Retired. Gen. Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO and a CNN military analyst, said it would be important for the United States to secure the full support of the Saudi government, including the use of Saudi Arabia's military bases. But Clark also noted that "the U.S. is working hard as we speak to diversify its basing options."
In the case of Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said it is still an open question whether Uzbekistan will allow the U.S. to base troops and planes at its facilities for possible military strikes.
Rumsfeld said what the United States wants most from its allies, especially those bordering Afghanistan, is "intelligence," which he said is the key to getting Osama bin Laden.
"I really believe that before its over, its not going be a cruise missile or a bomber that is going to be the determining factor," Rumsfeld said. "It's going to be a scrap of information from some person, in some country that's been repressed by a dictatorial regime that's been sponsoring a terrorist organization that's going to provide the information that's going to enable us to pull this network up by its roots and end it."
Clark said there are three things the United States must do before launching any military strikes: have its forces in place, have conducted the appropriate diplomatic missions, and have quality intelligence on where to base its operations.
"We have to have actionable intelligence," he said.
Rumsfeld also hinted that the United States might not be completely in the dark about bin Laden's whereabouts.
Asked if he knows where the accused terrorist leader is hiding, Rumsfeld replied, "I have a little bit of a handle, but I don't have coordinates."
Rumsfeld said he has no plans to share the evidence the United States has which it says links bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to the September 11 attacks. There's been plenty of evidence in the news media, he said, adding that no one is asking for it, except Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.
Rumsfeld said he hoped to visit U.S. troops on a military exercise in Egypt and expected to return to Washington by this weekend.
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