Perry says damage could have been less

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary William J. Perry acknowledged Sunday that the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia would have been less deadly if Saudi authorities had granted a U.S. request for tighter security.
Perry said he learned during his visit to the bomb site in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday that U.S. military officials had asked for permission to extend a security fence farther from the bombed apartment building but were turned down. The blast last Tuesday killed 19 U.S. servicemen and seriously injured dozens.
The day of Perry’s visit the security perimeter was pushed back to 400 feet, as had been requested earlier this year, from the 80-foot mark where the bombers parked a fuel truck and leaped into a getaway car before the bomb exploded.
“If the perimeter had been pushed back to 400 feet, and if the bomb had gone off at the same place, there would have been fewer damages, without question,” Perry told reporters traveling with him aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington as it sailed toward a liberty visit in Cannes, France.
Perry stressed, however, that the depth of the security area around the bomb building was not the only issue. “The terrorist doing the planning is looking for the weak spot … He probably would not have set off the bomb at that place” if the fence had been extended. “He would have looked for some other place to set it off.”
Perry also responded to suggestions by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., on Sunday that Perry should be replaced as defense secretary. “I think there’s a real need to shake up the Department of Defense and a real question as to whether William J. Perry is the right man to be secretary of defense,” Specter, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“There is nothing that I’m more concerned about than the safety and the welfare of those troops,” Perry said. “I deeply resent Senator Specter personalizing this even before we’ve had an opportunity to have a detailed investigation.”
And David Johnson, chief spokesman for President Clinton’s National Security Council said: “The president has full and complete confidence in his secretary of defense.”
Specter criticized the Saudi government’s reported refusal to allow U.S. officials to question suspects from a deadly November bombing in Riyadh and to widen the perimeter around the military housing complex in Dhahran.
Specter noted that the street in front of the White House was closed to motorists after the Oklahoma City bombing and said American soldiers deserve similar security considerations across the globe.
Perry also said, Saudi King Fahd, who suffered a major stroke last November, appeared recovered and in charge. Fahd has been the subject of rumors that his health problems have undermined the stability of the government, which is a key U.S. ally in the region.
In the interview, Perry was asked whether Fahd’s assurances meant U.S. officials would be allowed to interrogate any culprits arrested in the bombing Tuesday at a military housing complex.
News reports have said the Saudis refused U.S. requests to question the four Saudis who were arrested for the bombing last November in Riyadh that killed five Americans and two Indians at a military compound. The four were beheaded in May, an event some speculate may have led to the latest bomb attack.
Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, who attended the meeting, said Fahd had agreed to take “strong, well thought-out measures” to protect the several thousand U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia from future terrorist attacks. Bandar declined to discuss details.
Bandar said Perry was the first senior American official to meet personally with Fahd since his stroke, which news reports have said left the king with a loss of short-term memory.