WASHINGTON – The Army recently moved weaponry and war supplies from Qatar to a base in Kuwait near the Iraqi border to check their condition and test procedures that would be used in the event President Bush orders preparations for war, the Army's top civilian official said Thursday.
Army Secretary Thomas White said the movement to Camp Doha in Kuwait was a training exercise designed to periodically validate the condition of war materiel and practice loading and offloading it.
"We have done a lot with pre-positioned stocks in the Gulf, making sure they're accessible and that they're in the right spot to support whatever the president wants to do," White said in an interview with a group of reporters.
"But we've done nothing specifically against any particular scenario (for war)," he said.
President Bush, who has said he will outline his case against Saddam Hussein in a Sept. 12 speech at the United Nations, said during a rally in Louisville, Ky., that he would discuss Iraq on Friday in calls to the presidents of France and Russia and the premier of China.
"I will remind them that history has called us into action, that we love freedom, that we'll be deliberate, patient, strong in the values we adhere to. But we can't allow the world's worst leaders to blackmail, threaten, hold freedom-loving nations hostage with the world's worst weapons," Bush said.
As for Saddam, Bush said: "I take the threat very seriously."
Iraq also was discussed in a meeting on weapons proliferation that top administration officials held with senators at the Pentagon Thursday.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet met with two dozen senators, including many members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For several months, officials have been briefing members of Congress in such meetings -- and private experts and allied officials in various settings -- on the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
Officials said Iraq's weapons program was among subjects discussed at Thursday's meeting. Rumsfeld had already met in closed-door session with about 50 senators Wednesday to update them on the war against terrorism, and a similar meeting is likely soon with House members.
White, meanwhile, said the stocks that were shifted to Kuwait in July were later moved back to their permanent position in Qatar, but a spokesman for Army Forces Central Command, Maj. Rich Steele, said in an interview that the materiel -- enough to equip a combat brigade of more than 3,000 soldiers -- remains in Kuwait. That amounts to a doubling of the war supplies now stationed at Camp Doha.
Steele said the extra supplies were needed because the Army had added two battalions -- roughly 2,000 soldiers -- to the existing force at Camp Doha over the past several months. The soldiers were added over a period of months starting last fall to discourage Iraq from thinking the United States was so preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan that it was not ready to defend Kuwait, Steele said.
The war materiel includes tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as fuel, ammunition and other supplies. The purpose of storing it in the Gulf region is to have it readily available to link up with additional soldiers who would be flown to Kuwait from Europe or the United States as reinforcements.
Army officials could not immediately say when was the last time that pre-positioned war stocks were moved to Kuwait for inspection and testing. Kuwait would be a natural jumping-off point for any U.S. land invasion of Iraq. More than 9,000 soldiers are at Camp Doha, training in the desert.
White stressed repeatedly that Bush has made no decision about war against Iraq and that it would be inappropriate for him to discuss possible scenarios or timelines for an Army buildup in the Gulf.
Bush, meanwhile, has eased tensions with Congress by assuring lawmakers he would seek their approval before invading Iraq.
He met Wednesday with congressional leaders at the White House, a first step as he tries to persuade lawmakers, the American people and the world that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs must be stopped.
"I think everyone acknowledged this is a good start, but I don't think anyone walked out of there ready to invade," said Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In an opinion piece Thursday in The Washington Post, former President Carter declared that "a unilateral war with Iraq is not the answer." He said there is an urgent need for United Nations action to force unrestricted inspections in Iraq.
"But perhaps deliberately so, this has become less likely as we alienate our necessary allies," wrote Carter.
Bush will meet Saturday at Camp David with Tony Blair, the staunchest U.S. ally on Iraq. Bush said he would reach out to presidents Jacques Chirac of France, Jiang Zemin of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia -- all three opposed to war.