By Randall Mikkelsen (Reuters, Dec 10, 2002)
The United States reminded Iraq and other countries on Tuesday that it was prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary to respond to an attack from weapons of mass destruction.
The warning, which underscored longstanding U.S. policy leaving open the use of nuclear weapons if needed, was contained in a statement of U.S. strategy against nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- the first update since 1993.
The six-page strategy document says deterring attacks with the threat of "overwhelming force" is an essential element in protecting America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMD.
"The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force -- including through resort to all our options -- to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies," the strategy report said.
"In addition to our conventional and nuclear response and defense capabilities, our overall deterrent posture against WMD threats is reinforced by effective intelligence, surveillance, interdiction and domestic law enforcement capabilities," it said.
Senior U.S. officials said the passage was not included the previous U.S. strategy document on weapons of mass destruction, which emphasized efforts to prevent proliferation, and said the new document did not represent a shift in U.S. policy on when it would use nuclear weapons.
But the passage was put in the new report as part of an increased emphasis on the role of deterrence against a weapons of mass destruction attack, they said.
Other major elements of the new strategy include strengthening nonproliferation measures, beefing up defenses and combating the effects of an attack on the population.
The strategy report was released amid the looming possibility of war with Iraq, which the United States accuses of possessing weapons of mass destruction, officials said.
"The language speaks for itself, and I think it does apply to any state that would use weapons of mass destruction against us," a senior official said.
But the warning emphasizes and makes explicit for other countries a private warning Bush's father, former President George Bush, made in a letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) on the eve of the first Gulf War (news - web sites).
In that letter, the United States threatened the "severest consequences" if Iraq were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States, destroy Kuwaiti oil fields or participate in terrorism.
"It was clear in terms of the message that we would respond with all of our options. ... The Iraqis have told us that they interpreted that letter as meaning the United States would use nuclear weapons, and it was a powerful deterrent," the official said.
Although Iraq later set fire to Kuwaiti oil fields and supported terrorism, the official said, it did not "cross the line" of using chemical or biological weapons.