Bush officials downplay story on nuke plans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bush administration and military officials said Sunday the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in the event it or its allies are attacked, but said that option does not represent a change in policy.
"Let me put it this way: This is, again, not a plan," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
"This preserves for the president all the options that a president would want to have in case this country or our friends and allies were attacked with weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, chemical or, for that matter, high explosives," Myers said.
Administration officials spoke about the matter Sunday after the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times reported details from a classified Pentagon review, provided to Congress in January, in which the Bush administration said nuclear weapons could be used against Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea in certain situations.
Although administration officials and the Pentagon confirmed existence of the "nuclear posture review," neither the White House nor the Pentagon commented on the list of countries reported by the newspapers.
Myers described the review as a "policy document" outlining U.S. deterrence strategy, which includes the option of using nuclear weapons.
"We certainly hope to deter other actors in the world from taking steps with weapons of mass destruction that could have devastating effects on our population and the population of our friends and allies," he said.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the review does not reflect a change in U.S. policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons.
"This report spends as much time, or more time, talking about making the use of nuclear weapons less likely by having better intelligence, by having advanced conventional weapons as a possible response, by having missile defense as a way to deal with the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The review is simply "prudent military planning," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"I think there's less than meets the eye and less than meets the headline with respect to the story," Powell said.
"Right now, today, not a single nation on the face of the Earth is being targeted by an American nuclear weapon on a day-to-day basis."
Congress mandates a review of nuclear posture every six years. Nuclear targeting discussions have long been a part of U.S. military strategy, but analysts told CNN that, if accurate, the list of countries was first official one that has come to light.
The Pentagon said Saturday the review "does not provide operational guidance" on possible nuclear targets. The review "is the latest in a long series of reviews since the development of nuclear weapons," the Pentagon said.
Rice and Powell also said the new review takes into account recent changes on the world scene, including an improved U.S. relationship with Russia and the possible development of weapons of mass destruction by what Powell described as a "class of nations" that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea.
Powell also disputed another aspect of the newspapers' report -- that the United States is planning to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in certain battlefield situations.
The secretary said that as the U.S. military reduces the number of its nuclear weapons, the Pentagon is being asked to evaluate whether "we might want to modify or update or change some of the weapons in our inventory to make them more effective."
But no "brand new" weapons are being developed and no nuclear testing is planned, he said.
"I want to make sure we don't get the international community upset by what is essentially sound conceptual planning on the part of the administration," he said.
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