President George W. Bush, brushing aside an intensifying clamor among retired military commanders for Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation, said Friday his defense secretary enjoys his full support, and Rumsfeld's leadership of the Pentagon was "exactly what is needed at this critical period."
Bush apparently issued his statement to try to put to rest increasing calls for the secretary's departure because of criticism that he has mishandled the Iraq war and made other mistakes.
"I have seen firsthand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions," Bush said in a written statement, issued while the president was spending the Easter weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's nearby Catoctin Mountains.
"Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period," Bush said. "He has my full support and deepest appreciation."
In an interview aired Friday on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, Rumsfeld said he serves the president at his pleasure.
"The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views," Rumsfeld said. "But obviously if, out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."
Bush said he had talked with Rumsfeld earlier Friday about military operations in the campaign against terror. "I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation," the president said.
It was an extraordinary statement by the president on the status of a top official. Bush decided it was warranted because of the "type of voices" that have recently engaged in public criticism of Rumsfeld, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to elaborate on the White House's thinking more freely.
The official said Rumsfeld's case was unique. There has been no similar statement for Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose resignation is rumored to be imminent.
The administration official said Bush's statement should make it clear that Rumsfeld's job is safe for now, reports AP.
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