- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The United States acknowledged yesterday that it was actively considering unilaterally ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the House International Relations Committee that President Bush was examining action against Saddam as one option to achieve a "regime change" in Baghdad, which has been official U.S. policy for nearly five years.
"Regime change is something the United States might have to do alone," the secretary said. "How to do it? I would not like to go into any of the details of the options that are being looked at, but it is the most serious assessment of options that one might imagine. And [Mr. Bush] is leaving no stone unturned as to what we might do."
Reinforcing the intensified Bush administration focus on Iraq, a top aide to Richard B. Cheney said yesterday that the vice president would travel to the Middle East in mid-March, stopping in Israel and four states bordering Iraq to discuss future steps in the war on global terrorism.
Mr. Cheney will visit 11 nations, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait, all of which neighbor Iraq.
"The vice president will hold wide-ranging discussions on matters of mutual interests, including our ongoing campaign against terrorism and other regional security issues," Cheney aide Mary Matalin told Reuters news agency.
She said Mr. Cheney also would visit Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Britain.
Mr. Powell's comments yesterday marked the first time he has spoken publicly about U.S. action in Iraq, after disagreements with such hawks in the administration as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
CIA Director George J. Tenet echoed Mr. Powell's remarks during a hearing yesterday of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Today, [Saddam] maintains his vise grip on the levers of power through a pervasive intelligence and security apparatus, and even his reduced military force, which is less than half its prewar size, remains capable of defeating more poorly armed internal opposition groups and threatening Iraq's neighbors," Mr. Tenet said.
The president, who included Iraq in an "axis of evil," along with Iran and North Korea, in his State of the Union address to Congress last week, has demanded that Baghdad allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country.
After an overture from Saddam to the United Nations for talks earlier this week, Mr. Powell said that any discussions should be short and that the inspectors must have an "unfettered right" to conduct long-term searches of suspected weapons sites in Iraq.
The U.N. Security Council formed a special commission for disarming Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war, but no U.N. verification of Baghdad's compliance with resolutions banning production of weapons of mass destruction had taken place since Saddam expelled the inspectors in late 1998.
Yesterday, Mr. Powell said that "there is no doubt that the Iraqis are pursuing" a nuclear program, though the threat from it is not imminent.
"The best intelligence we have suggests that it isn't something they have ready to pop out within the next year or so," he said. "It would take them a bit longer, quite a bit longer than that in the absence of external help. But nevertheless, we are convinced that they are continuing to pursue such programs."
President George Bush, the current president's father, decided not to go to Baghdad after Saddam's defeat in the Gulf war, saying he lacked a U.N. mandate to oust the Iraqi dictator. He said, however, that he hoped the people of Iraq would overthrow their leader.
U.S. policy-makers also were concerned that the removal of Saddam might create a vacuum, destabilizing the entire region.
It wasn't until a speech by Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Clinton, in March 1997 that Saddam's departure became an official U.S. policy objective. Even then, Washington was reluctant to act forcefully.
Mr. Powell said yesterday that Mr. Bush is "determined to keep this on the front burner and is looking at all the options that are available for him to deal with this in a decisive way."
The secretary dismissed European concerns about American unilateralism but said that, when the international community "does not agree with us, we do not shrink from doing what we think is right."
"This suggestion that you sometimes see in intellectual circles that the United States is acting unilaterally and not consulting with our European partners this just simply couldn't be further from the truth.
"We recognize that there are strong points of view in Europe, and we always appreciate hearing these strong points of view, and I hear them whether I appreciate them or not. That is part of diplomacy. That is how friends work with each other."
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine yesterday criticized the Bush administration for its "simplistic" foreign policy.
"Today we are threatened by a simplism that reduces all the problems of the world to the struggle against terrorism and is not properly thought through," he told France Inter radio.
After his testimony, Mr. Powell flew to the Bahamas for an annual meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers on trade, migration and law enforcement. The Bush administration, which calls the Caribbean the "third border" of the United States, after Canada and Mexico, is trying to stem the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants from and through the islands.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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