- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

President Bush yesterday said he has no timetable for deciding whether to order a military strike against Iraq.

"And if I did, I wouldn't tell you or the enemy," Mr. Bush told the Associated Press during a brief interview at his ranch. Pressed on whether he would decide this year, he said, "Not necessarily."

Mr. Bush's remarks came after House Majority Leader Dick Armey's assertion Thursday that the United States should not attack Iraq without provocation from Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, had made remarks about Saddam in a speech in Des Moines, Iowa.

"My own view would be to let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants," Mr. Armey said. "As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him."

In Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush is vacationing, White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan said to comment directly on Mr. Armey's remarks would be to "speculate on hypotheticals."

"The president has not made a decision," Mr. McClellan added. "As he has said, he is keeping all options open and he will consult with Congress," as promised, if decisions are made.

Armey spokesman Terry Holt said the majority leader's remarks are "consistent with where he was in 1991," prior to the U.S.-led invasion in the Persian Gulf war. He said Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney called Mr. Armey and made the case to him, and the lawmaker eventually supported the administration's decision to go to war.

Mr. Armey believes "the bar is very high when you go to war," Mr. Holt said.

"This administration is in a position to make a strong case," he said. "[Mr. Armey] feels like the president has done an excellent job in the war on terrorism. If this is the next step, then it will have to be thought through and there will have to be some discussions as to the reasoning behind going to war."

Mr. Holt noted that Mr. Bush had not indicated whether the United States will go to war with Iraq.

"The president has not laid out a case for going to war against Iraq, I suspect because he has not decided that he's going to war against Iraq," he said. "We expect when the president makes a decision, he will consult with Congress and he will get good support out of Congress for whatever action he expects to take."

Speculation has been rampant about a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Mr. Armey warned that striking Iraq without a clear and easily understood provocation would isolate the United States.

"If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation-states who might do so," Mr. Armey said.

Mr. Bush said a national debate on how to bring about a regime change in Iraq is appropriate. When Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, approached the White House about his desire to hold hearings on the matter, the administration agreed they would be "healthy," Mr. Bush said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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