Rumsfeld Arrives in Saudi Arabia, Discusses Possible Concerns of War on Terror

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on orders from President Bush to prepare countries supportive of the U.S. war against terrorism for possible military strikes in Afghanistan, said Saudi officials expressed concern Wednesday that such a war could create harmful "secondary effects" in the Muslim world.

Rumsfeld met in the Saudi capital with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, then dined at the palace of Prince Sultan, the kingdom's minister of defense. It was the first stop on a mission to boost support from Arab and Central Asia nations with bases that could be vital for military action.

While the Saudis offered praise for President Bush's handling of the crisis created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they also had concerns, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him.

"We had a very substantive and interesting and thoughtful discussion about the nature of the problem and the complexities of the problem, and the importance of dealing with it in a way that recognizes secondary effects that could occur," the Pentagon chief said.

Rumsfeld said he stressed to his Saudi hosts that Bush is sensitive to concerns by Arab nations. He emphasized recent U.S. aid to Muslim nations such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

"We recognize that there are elements in the world — terrorists and terrorist networks — that make an active effort to turn that portion of the globe against the West and the United States," he said.

Saudi officials have said publicly that American troops must not use bases inside Saudi Arabia to launch attacks on other countries in the region, including Afghanistan.

Asked whether he had come to Riyadh to iron out such issues, Rumsfeld indicated he saw no insurmountable problems.

"To the extent that nations are well-knitted together at the top ... those kinds of things get worked out," he said. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the keeper of the holy places in their religion, has a special responsibility, and we recognize that and are comfortable with it."

Bush said he sent Rumsfeld to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, and Uzbekistan because he wants leaders to see U.S. resolve face-to-face.

Preparing for War

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that 2,263 National Guard and Reserve troops were called to active duty, bringing the total reserves mobilized to more than 22,400.

Before leaving, Rumsfeld ordered 1,000 troops from the Army's 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, two former Soviet republics that border Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported. The Pentagon refused to comment on this report.

Rumsfeld also said he hoped to meet with U.S. troops performing joint training exercises with Egypt.

About 30,000 American military members are in the Gulf region, including two aircraft carrier battle groups and 350 planes. Two additional aircraft carriers are on the way.

The administration hoped to keep the Taliban guessing about U.S. military plans.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested that nothing else needs to be done "before military action can be taken."

In Pakistan, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Taliban leaders had been told they "don't have much time" to stave off military strikes.

The Evidence

Building a case for war, U.S. envoys met with allies across the globe to share confidential evidence against bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. America's 18 NATO partners said the information was conclusive and formally declared the Sept. 11 attacks an assault against the alliance.

Bush also sought to shore up his support among the Arabs, saying for the first time that the idea of a Palestinian state is part of the Middle East peace process. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in step with Bush, planned a trip to Pakistan to solidify the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

But first, in a speech, the prime minister threatened Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers: "Surrender the terrorists or surrender power."

"The prime minister was echoing exactly what I said" to Congress, Bush told reporters who accompanied him Tuesday night to a downtown restaurant, where he and first lady Laura Bush dined with Washington Mayor Anthony Williams.

Still, Blair's comment went further, predicting an overthrow of the Taliban. Senior White House officials said privately they were briefed in advance about Blair's remarks.

The administration's rhetoric against the Taliban has intensified recently, with aides beginning to say only late last week that the United States would help forces that oppose the regime. Though he has threatened military action, Bush has stopped just short of calling for the Taliban's overthrow.

"The Taliban must turn over Al Qaeda [terrorists] living within Afghanistan, and must destroy the terrorist camps," Bush said. "And they must do so; otherwise, there will be a consequence. There are no negotiations. There's no calendar. We'll act on our time."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.