ABOARD THE USS JOHN F. KENNEDY -- In a cramped war room below deck, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday joined 18 of his counterparts in the terrorism fight in discussing the way ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On a hot, hazy day in the central Persian Gulf, Rumsfeld thanked the defense chiefs for their support. They also held a live, two-way video teleconference from the aircraft carrier with Army General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq. Casey described the US goal of bringing all of Iraq under friendly control.
The unannounced session was held amid mounting concern in some quarters that the insurgency in Iraq is so widespread and violent that full and fair elections in January might not be able to go on as scheduled.
Some progress toward ending the violence in the Sadr City section of Baghdad was reported yesterday. Also, negotiations with tribal leaders in the restive city of Fallujah were underway.
Rumsfeld began the meeting by noting the milestone elections in Afghanistan and emphasized that it was achieved despite the kind of doubt that some express for Iraq's prospects.
''Throughout this entire process," he said, referring to the drive toward democracy in Afghanistan, ''there have been people who said this could not happen. There are always naysayers and doomsayers and people who are faint of heart. But the people who have been determined and steadfast have been proved correct."
The rest of the session was closed to reporters. Rumsfeld's spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said afterward that Casey explained in general terms the US-Iraqi plan to use a combination of negotiations and military force to break the insurgents' grip on Fallujah and other important cities before the elections.
''He laid out the idea that he and the Iraqis have worked on this together," Di Rita said.
The defense chiefs came from Gulf nations such as Qatar and Bahrain; NATO allies, including Hungary, Poland, and Romania; aspiring alliance members such as Albania and Azerbaijan; former Soviet republics such as Estonia and Lithuania; and new US partners in the terrorism fight, including Macedonia and Georgia.
Also in attendance was the minister from Mongolia, which has 173 troops in Iraq.