- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

The State Department yesterday insisted there had been no change of policy regarding U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq, despite Vice President Richard B. Cheney's comments that the issue was not critical to containing Saddam Hussein.
The return of weapons inspectors evicted from Iraq after U.S. bombings in 1998 remains a central goal of the United States and the sanctions regime, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
"If Iraq wants to get out of the box, they're going to have to invite the inspectors in and comply with the U.N. resolutions," he told reporters at a State Department briefing yesterday.
Mr. Cheney said in an interview with The Washington Times published yesterday that the return of the inspectors was not the main focus of current U.S. pressure on Iraq.
"I don't think we want to hinge our policy just to the question of whether or not the inspectors go back in there," Mr. Cheney said in the interview. "It may not be as crucial if you've got other measures in place and you've got a [sanctions] regime that people are willing to support."
Secretary of State Colin Powell announced last week during his visit to five Arab allies all members of the 1991 coalition that drove Iraq out of Kuwait that he would recommend changes in the crumbling 10-year-old sanctions program that the United Nations imposed on Iraq.
He proposed allowing Iraq to import more consumer goods even some with possible weapons applications while tightening restraints on oil smuggling, which allows Iraq cash to buy weapons.
But at his Jan. 17 confirmation hearing, Mr. Powell had pledged to "re-energize the sanctions regime." Just before his Middle East trip, he said the sanctions could not be eased until inspectors returned to Iraq.
"Let the inspectors in, and we can get beyond this," he said at the time. "Until [Saddam] does that, I think we have to be firm. We have to be vigilant, and I will be carrying this message to my friends in the region."
State Department officials yesterday rejected any idea that easing the sanctions was a sign of weakness or that Mr. Powell's proposals were offered without approval of the Bush administration's more hawkish defense officials.
They said it remained the final objective of U.S. sanctions policies to get inspectors back into Iraq to verify that it has not built nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
The sanctions on sales of oil and imports of weapons materials will remain in place "until they can demonstrate to the rest of us that they've stopped pursuing these programs," Mr. Boucher said.
"Obviously, the only way they could demonstrate that would be to have inspectors come back in and prove it."
Senior Iraqi officials told U.N. representatives in New York last week that Iraq would never allow inspectors back into the country.
Mr. Powell faces questioning tomorrow at the House International Relations Committee over the decision to bow to regional Arab anger and allow Iraq to import more consumer goods.
The secretary announced the policy following meetings last week with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
All of those leaders face intense grass-roots pressure over reports that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have died of malnutrition or lack of medicine as a result of the U.N. sanctions.
A senior State Department official said President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved the decision to ease the sanctions on consumer goods before Mr. Powell's trip.
"Rumsfeld, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice and Powell had a series of meetings, including Wednesday lunches," to decide on Iraq policy, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday.
"Cheney at times attended, and they met with the president, too, in advance of the trip. Rumsfeld was on board that they needed to fix the sanctions. The details remain to be settled."
Asked whether the administration was split between hawks and doves, the senior department official said, "No, it is not true. They are big boys, and they know how to work things out."
Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration is carrying out a review of the Iraq policy and will decide how to tighten the noose on:
Efforts by Saddam to smuggle oil out of Iraq, evading the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Iraq's attempts to use cash from smuggled oil to purchase weapons and weapons technology.
The administration is seeking to set up customs and money controls based in front-line states such as Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, "independent of what Iraq decides to do," Mr. Boucher said.
While administration officials profess agreement on the sanctions policy, they appear to differ on how aggressively to work for Saddam's overthrow.
Former Reagan officials Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz have called for increased U.S. backing for the anti-Saddam exile group, Iraqi National Congress (INC).
Mr. Wolfowitz has been nominated to be deputy defense secretary in the new administration and will not comment. Mr. Perle said last week it was time to give the INC backing to seize power in Iraq.
He told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East on Thursday that the Bush administration should help the opposition set up a political presence in southern or northern portions of Iraq under cover of the no-fly zones patrolled by U.S. and British jets.
State Department officials and analysts are less optimistic about the chances of the INC defeating Saddam, even with the $95 million in aid voted by Congress.
Mr. Boucher said the State Department had cooperated with the INC on such things as "information activities, public activities, collecting information, disseminating information."
"As far as [military] activities," he said, "I guess the only thing I can say at this point is … that is being looked at."

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