- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday strongly supported Friday's U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq, shrugging off criticism from a number of centrist Arab states he will soon visit.
Addressing reporters after a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Mr. Powell said his message on the Mideast trip will be: "Don't look at the United States as the source of the problem. The source of the problem is in Baghdad."
"Containment has been a successful policy, and I think we should make sure that we continue it until such time as [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein comes into compliance with the agreements he made" at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"As long as we believe the [no-fly policy] is necessary, then we are going to protect our pilots," he said.
Baghdad has denounced the raids, and over the weekend it resumed firing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at allied warplanes enforcing the no-fly zones in Iraq's northern and southern regions, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. and British strikes at five sites near Baghdad on Friday were aimed at harming Iraq's increasingly sophisticated air-defense networks that track and target the allied patrols.
British officials confirmed yesterday that one purpose of Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Washington on Friday will be to discuss with President Bush modifications of the sanctions policy in the face of growing international criticism.
John Sawers, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Blair, said sanctions were only one element in an overall strategy to contain Saddam, including keeping control of Iraq's oil profits and patrolling Iraq's borders.
"The elements of that containment strategy will be looked at again," he said. "When there is a new U.S. administration, of course they are going to look at the best way to do this."
A senior State Department official confirmed the United States also was considering so-called "smart sanctions" as it reviewed the decade-old policy against Iraq.
"We shouldn't be arguing about things that don't matter so much," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The focus should be on Saddam's weapons and the money he gets to provide for them."
But a top Iraqi official, speaking on a visit to Tunisia, lashed out at the idea of even modified sanctions yesterday.
"Britain and the United States are partners in prolonging the blockade," said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. "What they said may mislead those who do not know the reality, but in fact what they said is poison."
Several countries, including U.N. Security Council members Russia, China and France, have been highly vocal in condemning the raids and the hard line pushed by Washington against Saddam.
The Iraqis are set to participate in a high-level U.N. conference Monday and Tuesday to discuss ideas for breaking the deadlock on sanctions and Iraq's refusal to permit U.N. weapons inspectors into the country to determine if Saddam harbors forbidden weapons of mass destruction.
Osama Baz, a senior aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, yesterday called for an easing of the stranglehold on Iraq's economy.
"The priority for the world community is now to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and not to increase it," Mr. Baz said in a radio interview.
But Mr. Powell, an architect of the U.S.-led victory in the 1991 war against Saddam, said he was not worried about the negative reaction in the Middle East to the strikes.
"There have always been neuralgic points associated with our policy," he said. "The expression of concern that I received over the weekend from various Arab nations in the region frankly was fairly moderate."
On his first overseas trip as secretary of state, Mr. Powell will visit Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, the Palestinian territories and NATO headquarters in Brussels.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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