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White House downplays Iraq invasion report

White House downplays Iraq invasion report

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (CNN) -- The Bush administration refused comment Friday on a reported preliminary plan to attack Iraq, saying it never comments on military plans.

"We don't comment on military plans or military planning," a senior administration official told CNN.

According to a report in Friday's New York Times, the U.S. military has put together a preliminary planning document that calls for air, land and sea-based forces to attack Iraq. The assault would involve tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and soldiers, the newspaper reported.

Under the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War, Iraq was to destroy its existing weapons of mass destruction. A In-Depth Special report  describes the types of weapons at issue and the dispute over inspections of them.
Report: U.S. plan calls for attack on Iraq 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he hopes that two days of talks with the Iraqi leadership  can lead to "conclusive decisions" on the return of the arms experts.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed as speculation any notion the report is significant.

"The Pentagon engages in contingency planning of all types all around the world," Fleischer told reporters en route to Kennebunkport, Maine, where President Bush is spending the weekend with his family.

Bush has made it clear he is keeping all options on the table, including a military assault, to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

"Our position with respect to Iraq and the Iraqi regime is well known," a senior aide said.

About three weeks ago, Bush repeated he had no war plans on his desk. The senior aide said that remains the case today.

News of this report came on the same day the United Nations failed to reach an agreement with Iraq which would allow U.N. weapons inspectors to re-enter the country.

The United States has said that U.N. weapons inspectors must have unfettered access to the country, the senior aide told CNN.

"Inspectors are a means to an end, not an end itself," the official said, adding that the administration's goal is making sure Hussein does not possess or build weapons of mass destruction.

Bush arrived in Kennebunkport early Friday for a four-day visit to his family's stone and brick compound, called Walker's Point. He will celebrate his 56th birthday Saturday and return to the White House on Monday afternoon.




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