"I'm confident that we can address the challenge and that Ronald Reagan Airport will be open," Card said on Fox News Sunday. Only at issue, Card said, was "how quickly and under what circumstances."
The prime air gateway to the nation's capital - and just a few miles from the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon - Reagan National is the only airport in the nation that remains closed.
All U.S. airports were shut down Sept. 11 to prevent further hijackings. The others have resumed operations, but security officials protested that reopening Reagan National would leave the seat of government vulnerable to an airliner diverted by suicide bombers.
As Bush administration officials debate the issue, the president has come under pressure from Congress and officials from the Washington area who contend that the airport is vital to the region's economy and an important symbol of American resolve.
Rumsfeld said his Pentagon office could be smashed with a "relatively minor course correction" of a rogue plane flying to or from Reagan National, but told Meet the Press that security concerns could be addressed.
"I think the way to deal with that is by proper training of people on the ground - the protection of aircraft, air marshals," Rumsfeld said, without elaborating on specific security proposals.
Military jets now patrolling over Washington could not protect the city from a rogue aircraft using Reagan National because there would not be enough time to react, the defense secretary said.
"That means that the problem is almost impossible to deal with from the air," Rumsfeld said. "But I think if we're able to deal with the problem on the ground, we have the best chance of seeing that this type of thing does not happen again.
"I personally am hopeful that Washington National will be open," he added. "I think that it would be a shame if we had to alter our behavior. When we do that to any great extent, the terrorists win."
Discussion about defense of the "homeland," as the United States is now being referred to in government circles, occurred as the U.S. military continued preparations for action against Osama bin Laden.
Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, whose stint as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to expire at midnight last night, declined to discuss a television report out of Qatar over the weekend that five members of an American special forces team had been seized by Afghan forces.
"We won't have any comment about the reports that are coming out of the Middle East," Shelton said on the ABC program This Week.
On Saturday, officials of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban denied the report, and a senior Bush administration official cast doubt on it's accuracy.
The general echoed the theme of other officials who sought yesterday to portray the threat posed to America as real and serious, but not crippling or larger than life.
He noted that before the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Iraqi forces had been described as "10 feet tall," but were quickly vanquished.
Knight Ridder/Tribune and The New York Times contributed to this article.