us nuclear strike plan is in place

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    THE US is considering using nuclear weapons to destroy Saddam Hussein's underground command posts and stop him using his own weapons of mass destruction, a military expert warned yesterday.

    Former US Army intelligence analyst William Arkin – known for his Pentagon connections – said plans were being laid at the Strategic Command bunker in Nebraska, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

    "Nuclear weapons have, since they were first created, been part of the arsenal of war planners," Mr Arkin wrote in The LA Times.

    "But the Bush administration's decision to actively plan for possible pre-emptive use of such weapons represents a significant lowering of the nuclear threshold," he said.

    In Canberra last night a spokesman for Prime Minister John Howard reiterated comments Mr Howard made last week to the British press:

    "If I thought there were going to be nuclear weapons used I would not allow Australian forces to be involved."

    Washington has already warned Baghdad that any resort to weapons of mass destruction might have the most severe consequences, a diplomatic phrase for a nuclear strike.

    In December 2001, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a classified nuclear posture review opening the way for nuclear weapons to be used against targets invulnerable to non-nuclear attack.

    Nations such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria were listed as possible targets.

    The review also called upon the military to develop plans to attack foreign weapons of mass destruction facilities, even if the enemy did not resort to them first, Mr Arkin wrote.

    This work is currently under way at the Strategic Command, which Mr Arkin says has already prepared a "Theatre Nuclear Planning Document" for Iraq.

    Earlier this month Mr Bush approved a request by Mr Rumsfeld to put Admiral James Ellis in charge of dealing with foreign weapons of mass destruction.

    "On the surface, these new assignments give the command a broader set of tools to avoid nuclear escalation," wrote the expert. "In reality, they open the door to contemplating American use of nuclear weapons."

    Defence Department spokesman Major Ted Wadsworth would only say: "That's something that policymakers have to talk about."

    An administration official said: "The US reserves the right to act in defence of itself and its allies by whatever means necessary."

    In the area of conventional arms, while US, British and Australian troops continue to build up in the Gulf, NATO members will this week again try to bridge their differences and respond to America's request for military support.

    Members failed to reach agreement a week ago, after Washington asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to study options for helping indirectly in a war against Iraq. Reflecting spilts in the UN on the issue, the 19 members of the military alliance are divided. The US and Britain are in favour while Germany and France leading the opposition to any NATO participation in the conflict.

    The US had asked NATO for support in six key areas, including providing AWACS surveillance plans, permission to fly over members' air space, naval reinforcement in the Mediterranean, and deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries in the south of Turkey, to help defend the NATO member that borders Iraq.

    NATO's ruling North Atlantic Council discussed the requests last week, but failed to come up with an agreement.

    Several members of the alliance, which works by consensus, opposed going ahead with any military planning, saying all current efforts should be focused on the UN inspections in Iraq, diplomats said.

    Paris and Berlin have been particularly vociferous in their disagreement, with Belgium, Luxembourg and even Norway, traditionally a faithful US ally, also urging caution.

    Turkey, another key US ally, has also been reticent to back any military action against its southern neighbor. Turkey fears that a war will damage its fragile economy and could stir up unrest among its Kurdish population.

    Meanwhile Washington and London have pushed for military preparations.

    NATO chief George Robertson downplayed the divisions last week.

    "This is not some sort of bust-up. It is a disagreement over timing, not of substance," Robertson said last week.

    "I have absolutely no doubt that the alliance will, as it has promised, stand by its ally Turkey, which happens to be a neighbor of Iraq. There is no dispute about that at all," he said.

    "We will continue as we always do, to try and build consensus in a dignified and a calm way," Robertson said.

    But "if (Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) does not totally change his attitude, the international community, and the United Nations in particular, will have to react or risk losing all credibility," Robertson said Friday.

     SOUTH Korea has urged the UN nuclear watchdog to postpone a meeting on North Korean – asking for more time to allow diplomatic efforts to work.

    The request came after Seoul announced it was sending two envoys, including a special advisor to the president, to Pyongyang for talks on the nuclear stand-off.

    Earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it would hold an emergency session on February 3 to decide whether to refer the matter to the Security Council.
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