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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK
Lower profile for elusive Rumsfeld

By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon correspondent

News conferences by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were once regular and much anticipated events. Now, suddenly, it seems they are not.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld is still vulnerable
Clearly one of the casualties of recent developments in Iraq, and perhaps the gathering US election campaign, has been the regular high-profile Pentagon news briefing by Mr Rumsfeld.

It has prompted speculation that he is out of favour and perhaps even now seen as a political liability by the Bush administration.

He was once the most prominent public advocate of the administration's global war on terror and the conflict in Iraq, but he has given only two Pentagon briefings since the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal erupted in April.

In the doldrums

Pentagon officials play this down. They say he continues to do interviews and other media appearances.

And they argue that with the political transition in Iraq, it is only natural that the Pentagon takes more of a public backseat.

But privately, some officials also acknowledge that Mr Rumsfeld may deliberately be taking a lower profile, so that neither he nor the Pentagon gets sucked into the party political election debate - and there is little doubt that his political fortunes are in the doldrums at the moment.

The controversy over the prisoner abuse scandal goes on. The US military is still struggling with the insurgency in Iraq and there is the continuing non-appearance of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The immediate speculation that Mr Rumsfeld might be fired has subsided, but he is clearly still politically vulnerable.

There are doubts about whether he would be asked to serve again if President Bush wins a second term in office.

But Mr Rumsfeld's supporters say he has been written off before and each time he has bounced back.

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