Bush: ‘Don’t Believe’ US Forces Aren’t Ready
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush on Thursday sought to stem reports that U.S. forces aren’t yet ready for offensive action in the Persian Gulf, saying he was ″very comfortable″ with the firepower on hand.
However, he declined to directly deny reports that the troops will not be prepared to launch an attack by Jan. 15, the deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
At one point during questioning on the matter, Bush told reporters at the White House ″I’ve said all I want to say about readiness.″
″I think it would be very useful if from the president and others there were fewer comments about readiness,″ he said.
″I feel that the situation is exactly where I was told it was going to be at this time,″ Bush said. ″Don’t believe those reports you’re reading,″ he said, referring to accounts that his military advisers have warned him that the U.S. force will not be suitably prepared for offensive action until mid- February. By then, more than 400,000 troops and much more armor will be deployed in the region.
″We’re going to fully implement the United Nations resolutions,″ which authorize force to get Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, he said. ″The United States will do its part to fulfill every single one of them.″
He made the comments to reporters who encountered him in a White House hallway, and later to a group gathered to watch him fly off to resume his vacation at Camp David, Md., after returning to the White House for part of the day.
Bush met Thursday morning with the Soviet ambassador, Alexander Bessmertnykh, who delivered a message from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Bush said the message contained ″friendly words of greeting from President Gorbachev, and I had a chance to ... ask the ambassador to give him our best wishes for a happy new year.″ He said he discussed with the Soviet envoy the current domestic turmoil in the Soviet Union, where Gorbachev is struggling to keep a lid on the explosive tug-of-war between reformers and conservatives, and the challenge to his own position.
Bush said there had been ″no progress″ on setting a meeting between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to discuss a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis.
Still, he said, he hopes for a peaceful solution.
The Iraqis have insisted the Baghdad meeting be Jan. 12, but Bush said there will be ″no compromise″ on the U.S. position of scheduling it no later than Jan. 3.
Referring to a meeting earlier this week with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after their visit to the gulf, Bush said, ″I’m very comfortable with the briefing, and the briefing I had was quite different than most of the stories I’m reading in the last day or two.″
The New York Times and Washington Post both cited unidentified sources this week as saying the top military advisers warned him the troops would not be ready to launch an attack by Jan. 15.
The president challenged reporters Thursday to ″show me the quotes″ from Cheney and Powell, and dismissed the stories as ″rumors of what somebody is alleged to have told me.″.
Asked what they did tell him, Bush said, ″I’m not going to tell you what they said, but I’m going to tell you, don’t believe these reports you’re reading.″
″It’s under control,″ he said, adding he has ″total confidence″ in his Pentagon team. ″Don’t be misled by these rabbit trails running through the snow out there.″
The president’s comments were the latest in a series of mixed-message statements by officials on preparations for a Persian Gulf war.
The administration has been casting about since last week to put a positive spin on statements by Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller in Saudi Arabia, who was the first to publicly state that he would recommend Bush wait until mid-February to attack, if that proves necessary.
But Bush on Saturday said the allied forces ″are ready to respond vigorously″ within 10 minutes if provoked.
Cheney said last week that U.S. forces would be in position to attack ″soon after Jan. 15,″ if necessary.
Also on Thursday, 101 members of Congress wrote Bush urging him to hold off on a military strike to give international economic sanctions more time to take hold.
The letter, drafted by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., contends that the U.N. vote authorizing use of force in the Gulf ″does not commit, or authorize the use of the United States armed forces,″ in an armed conflict.
That authorization ″lies solely with the Congress of the United States,″ the letter said.