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Rumsfeld secures cooperation in the Gulf

By Wolf Blitzer

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- The first stop for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Qatar is signing an agreement that will formally expand U.S. access to the huge Al Udeid air base in this small but strategically important Persian Gulf state. "There is no doubt the agreement will allow us to strengthen our long-term strategic cooperation," Rumsfeld said.

At issue is an air base with a 15,000-foot runway -- the longest in the region. That base will be critical if the United States goes to war against Iraq. On Thursday, the defense secretary made a quick visit to the U.S. military's temporary headquarters at the As Saliyah military base -- also in Qatar.

His visit, by all accounts, came at a delicate moment in the standoff with Iraq and the war against terror:

• U.N. weapons inspectors, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, are attempting to determine whether the Iraqis lied in their nearly 12,000-page declaration documenting their weapons programs.

• U.S. and Spanish warships intercepted a cargo ship off the coast of Yemen carrying a shipment of Scud missiles and related missile parts.

There are also fresh al Qaeda terror threats -- backed up by actual deeds, most recently in Bali, Indonesia, and Mombasa, Kenya.

To further underscore current jitters, the Bush administration has now released a new strategy document with a blunt warning: If rogue nations use weapons of mass destruction, all U.S. retaliatory options, including the nuclear option, will be on the table.

A similar warning was delivered to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the Gulf War a dozen years ago. Here's how then Secretary of State James Baker phrased it in 1990: "He must also realize, and I want to stress this point, that should he use chemical or biological weapons, there will be the most severe consequences."

That warning is said to have deterred the Iraqi leader from unleashing artillery shells, rockets or missiles with chemical or biological weapons.

Rumsfeld's visit here to Qatar also coincides with current U.S. war games designed to prepare U.S. troops for a possible war against Iraq. The defense secretary wants to make sure his military commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, has a battle plan ready to go at a moment's notice -- and one that works.

In recent months, Rumsfeld, a hands-on kind of defense secretary, has repeatedly asked his military chiefs to refine their strategy. Pentagon sources tell CNN that process is now effectively complete.

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