RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld embarked Wednesday on a mission to strengthen support in the Islamic world for President Bush's campaign against terrorism and to squeeze friendly governments for timely intelligence on the whereabouts of Usama bin Laden.
In an interview aboard his Air Force jet en route from Washington, Rumsfeld would speak only in the broadest terms about preparations for attacks against either bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network or the Taliban regime that has been harboring him in Afghanistan.
He said the key was finding "actionable intelligence" — information to help find and arrest or eliminate bin Laden — not assembling an armada of warships and fleets of bombers.
Bush said Wednesday he dispatched Rumsfeld to the region because he wants key Muslim leaders to see U.S. resolve face-to-face.
"People need to be able to look us in the eye and know that when we say that we're in this for the long run — that we're going to find terrorists and bring them to justice — we mean it," Bush said in New York.
Asked about a Washington Post report Wednesday that infantry from the Army's Tenth Mountain Division was being deployed to the region near Afghanistan, Rumsfeld's chief spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, said several units of the division were on a heightened state of alert but had not deployed "at this time."
After talks in the Saudi capital on Wednesday, Rumsfeld was headed for Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state that Rumsfeld indicated could be a key source of intelligence on Al Qaeda.
Upon his arrival in Riyadh, Rumsfeld met with the kingdom's defense minister Prince Sultan and Crowned Prince Abdallah.
Rumsfeld's plane stopped in Ireland to refuel.
Asked whether he knew bin Laden's whereabouts, Rumsfeld replied, "I have a little bit of a handle, but I don't have [map] coordinates." He did not elaborate. U.S. officials believe bin Laden is being harbored inside a chaotic Afghanistan by the ruling Taliban Islamic fundamentalist militia.
Rumsfeld declined to say whether U.S. military action against the Taliban was inevitable.
"I guess time will tell," he said.
Rumsfeld said his trip was meant to reinforce Bush's message that the United States is committed to a long-term fight against terrorism and that it can only be successful if others in the region help.
"I'm not there to be negotiating anything with any one of those countries," he said.
Saudi Arabia is an important stop for Rumsfeld, not least because it is the most steadfast U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and because it hosts a powerful array of U.S. Air Force combat planes.
The main base in Saudi Arabia for U.S. forces is Prince Sultan Air Base, which includes a combat operations center from which U.S. commanders could direct air strikes in the Gulf region. The Saudis reportedly balked initially at allowing the Americans to use the operations center for attacks on Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld denied there was anything to negotiate with the Saudis.
"We're not going to be making requests of the Saudi Arabian government," he said. "What we intend to do there is ... visit with them about the fact that our interest is to create a set of conditions so we can engage in a sustained effort against terrorist networks."
He said that means acquiring the kinds of capabilities in the vicinity of Afghanistan "so that we can gather information. I honestly believe it will be a scrap of information that will turn the tide."
Speaking of his stop in Uzbekistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Rumsfeld stressed that it and other countries on the periphery of Afghanistan could provide much-needed intelligence information.
"They see the flow of people back and forth across those borders," he said.
He also suggested that Uzbekistan and perhaps other of Afghanistan's neighbors could make a military contribution.
"From a military standpoint, clearly it would be desirable for countries to participate in that," he said.
Rumsfeld declined to say whether any U.S. combat troops are in Uzbekistan. And he would not comment when asked about a report in The Washington Post that members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division were heading for the region.