Rumsfeld met with government and military officials in Oman this morning and then traveled to Egypt, after which he was expected to head to the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic. The defense secretary left Washington on Tuesday and expects to return by Saturday.
The central purpose of the tour is to secure support from Muslim-majority countries for a U.S. campaign against terrorism. In a related move, the Pentagon also announced a $1.2 billion deal to sell arms to Oman, including 12 F-16s fighters and a variety of missiles and bombs. A Defense Department statement said the sale "will strengthen Oman as a coalition partner."
The Pentagon says more than 30,000 troops are now in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk, is nearing the region and would be the fourth carrier to be within striking distance of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban refuses to hand over bin Laden without seeing evidence of his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, in which four planes were hijacked, crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington and a Pennsylvania field. Earlier, Taliban officials had said they did not know where bin Laden was, but in recent days have said the alleged terrorist mastermind was under their control in an undisclosed part of Afghanistan.
Today, Qatar's Al Jazeera TV showed what it said was recent footage of bin Laden with Egyptian Islamic militant Ayman al Zawahiri celebrating the unification of their organizations in an apparently remote location.
Saudi Arabia: Key to Air Campaign
Rumsfeld's visit to Saudi Arabia came after officials said the kingdom would not allow U.S. forces to launch anti-terrorism missions against Arabs or Muslims from its territory. Saudi Arabia, home to some of Islam's holiest sites, is host to about 5,000 U.S. troops.
Saudi officials said that Rumsfeld made no demands of them with regard to any potential military action, but U.S. officials said Rumsfeld wanted assurance that the Saudi government would fully support an air campaign and give the United States access to a new military command center.
Rumsfeld's visit gives the Saudi Arabian government political cover, making it appear they were providing aid to the United States only under intense pressure, U.S. officials said.
Egypt has been relatively silent in taking a position on the U.S. war on terrorism. Several of the suspected hijackers were Egyptian.
But Omani troops may already be preparing for military strikes. Hundreds of Omani and British forces have been participating in military exercises and the British media speculates that British forces assembled in Oman could be redeployed for a possible U.S.-led military attack.
Blair Lays Out Evidence to Parliament
In other developments:
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described some of the evidence against bin Laden in an emergency session of Parliament, and said even more direct evidence would soon be given to British lawmakers.
He said the evidence shows that three of the hijackers involved in the attacks were "known associates" of bin Laden, and one of those three played a crucial role in the attack on the USS Cole last year, in which 17 sailors were killed, and in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.