- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2002

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said yesterday that he does not believe getting rid of Saddam Hussein should be postponed until the crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians eases.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney said leaders of several Arab countries he met with during his trip to the Middle East in March warned him against the United States moving militarily against Iraq while the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still raging. A main purpose of his trip was to try to gather support for a campaign to oust the Iraqi leader.
But Mr. Peres, interviewed from Rome yesterday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields," said, "You cannot sit and wait" while Saddam develops weapons of mass destruction.
Asked what he thinks of recommendations to defer an attack against Iraq until the Mideast crisis is less volatile, Mr. Peres said, "I'm not sure. Maybe a change in Iraq can facilitate a better solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It's not so clear that there is a simple answer."
"But Iraq is an issue in their own right, and a very terrible one. I think that everybody is a little bit impatient because there is a feeling that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons. They possess chemical weapons. They possesss biological weapons. They are building missiles. And simply, you cannot sit and wait for meeting this challenge," Mr. Peres said.
Mr. Peres said he cannot give a "precise answer" as to whether Saddam was involved with either Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network's September 11 attacks or the subsequent anthrax-laced letters that were sent to some U.S. senators and other prominent figures.
"But I believe Saddam Hussein is as dangerous as bin Laden. I don't see a real difference," said Mr. Peres, who is part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition.
"He is killing. He is threatening. He is trying to achieve nonconventional arms. Now, if he were in your suburb, in my suburb? What would we do? Would we let him run free and crazy?" the foreign minister said.
Mr. Peres cited the "recent establishment of a quartet" comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which he believes could have significance in dealing with Iraq. "If they will act in concert, I believe it can help a great deal to solve the conflict with the Palestinians and us, and maybe create a front vis-a-vis the Iraqis," he said.
Meanwhile, the London Sunday Telegraph reported in today's editions that Saddam has offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a safe haven in Baghdad in the event of Israel forcing him into exile.
Also, Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat, who accompanied Mr. Sharon to Washington last week, proposed yesterday that the United States appoint an interim Palestinian government to sideline Mr. Arafat, whom Israel has branded a terrorist. It was not clear whether she was expressing the views of the government. Mr. Sharon also wants Mr. Arafat moved to a symbolic leadership position devoid of authority.
The appointment of a new leadership should be followed after an extended period by Palestinian elections, Miss Livnat told Israel Radio. "The Americans need to be the ones exerting great pressure, as they did in Afghanistan," she said.
This article is based in part on wire reports.


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