Published August 22, 2002
CRAWFORD, Texas – While President Bush said the topic of Iraq didn't come up during Wednesday's military summit at his Crawford ranch, the president promised that any action against Iraq will be done in consultation with U.S. allies.
That's because toppling the Iraqi dictator's regime "is in the interest of the world," Bush said.
"How we achieve that is a matter of consultation and deliberation," Bush told reporters following the meeting of senior national security advisers.
Despite the martial talk, the meeting did not touch on how to launch a military strike against Saddam Hussein, Bush said, but rather focused on long-range Pentagon issues.
Nonetheless, Bush said he would act in a deliberate fashion in deciding how to deal with the Iraqi leader.
"I am a patient man. ... We will look at all options and we will consider all technologies available to us and diplomacy and intelligence," Bush said.
The president's meeting with his defense team came as talk increases of an imminent attack on Iraq. The gathering at Bush's Texas ranch fed suggestions that he was discussing war plans with his advisers.
"I know there's this intense speculation, a churning, a frenzy ... but the subject didn't come up," Bush said.
"But having said that, we take all threats seriously," he added. " We will continue to talk with the people concerned with peace, how to secure the peace."
"The American people know my position and that is regime change [in Iraq] is in the interest of the world," Bush said. "How we achieve that is a matter of consultation and deliberation. ... I am a deliberate person."
"But one thing is for certain is that this administration agrees that Saddam Hussein is a threat and ... it hasn't changed," Bush said.
He said nothing that the Iraqi leader had done or said recently had convinced him otherwise.
Iraq has not allowed U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country since they left in late 1998.
In advance of the session at the ranch, administration aides had taken pains to portray the meeting as a high-level huddle on the future needs of the military, with no space on the agenda for war planning.
Bush said the discussion centered on ways to "better protect ourselves and our allies from the true threats of the 21st century" and to "shape a new philosophy in the Pentagon."
Still, most of the questions during a news conference after the session dealt with Iraq.
As to recent suggestions by several major U.S. allies, including Germany and Canada, that they would not join the United States in a military strike against Iraq unless a better case could be made, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "the president has not asked them to."
Rumsfeld, standing alongside Bush, said that the coalition that Bush had assembled in the global war on terrorism "is broad, it's deep, it's impressive and it is in fact what is helping the forward progress that we're achieving."
Bush said that U.S. plans for a missile defense were among the topics discussed. On Tuesday, the military postponed a missile defense test, citing a problem with the Minuteman booster rocket used to launch the target missile interceptor. A more suitable rocket is still under production.
The president also was asked about reports about the death of Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal in Baghdad earlier this week. "No terrorist can hide forever," Bush said.
At the same time, the president voiced open skepticism about reports from Iraqi and Palestinian officials about the circumstances of his death.
"They said he committed suicide with four bullet holes to the head, so I'm not quite sure how he died. We just have to make sure he died," Bush said.
Also joining Bush at the military meeting were Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
On the official to-discuss list were the 2004 defense budget, the direction of missile defense programs since U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Bush's desire to reshape priorities to reflect modern-day war realities -- a transformation that could include cutting expensive, politically popular aircraft programs.
Rumsfeld on Tuesday described the meeting as a routine effort to update the president, who is spending a monthlong working vacation at his 1,600-acre spread.
Likewise, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has noted that Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. military commander in the theater of any future Iraq action, was not invited. He also pointed out a similar broad-based Pentagon planning session -- involving essentially the same people -- last August during Bush's Texas vacation.
The military's focus shifted in the aftermath of Sept. 11 from long-range thinking to the more immediate concerns of protecting Americans, Fleischer said.
"This is an attempt now to make certain that we're doing both," he said.