BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The United States and allied nations must not wait for "absolute proof" of an impending terrorist attack before acting to stop it, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.
Addressing a meeting of defense ministers from the 19 NATO nations, Rumsfeld said the world has consistently underestimated the threat of terrorist attacks. The only surprise, he said, is that "we are still surprised when this happens," according to an outline of the main points he made. The outline was provided to reporters; his speech was not open to coverage.
Rumsfeld said it is inevitable that terrorists will gain access to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and that governments as well as the general public need to better understand the threat.
"Real situation worse than what facts show," was among the key points in the outline of his remarks.
Another point: "Absolute proof cannot be precondition for action." Although the outline of his remarks made no mention of Iraq, the point about acting in a timely way fits with Rumsfeld's expressed view that in some cases the United States must take pre-emptive action to protect America.
European nations have been skeptical of pre-emptive military action.
Earlier Thursday, another U.S. official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said NATO defense ministers agreed to put new emphasis on improving their ability to detect, prevent and respond to attacks by weapons of mass destruction -- particularly biological, nuclear and radiological.
The agreement was part of a broader discussion, led by Rumsfeld, of ways the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can modernize its command structure and focus member countries' spending on high-priority defense items as the alliance prepares to add new members.
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