- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — The United States Thursday played down speculations that Washington is trying to arrange a safe exit for the Iraqi president but said it would be good if Saddam Hussein stepped down and left his country.

"He has the option; he ought to take it," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing in Washington, adding later, "But there's nothing in his past that would indicate he might."

Boucher said the United States was not actively involved in any plan to force Saddam to resign and arrange a safe passage for him.

Last week, United Press International published an appeal from various Muslim groups to Saddam to quit and save the people of Iraq from another war and suffering.

And on Thursday, an Iranian newspaper Entekhab reported that Washington was considering options to remove Saddam without a war.

The newspaper quoted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as telling his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, by telephone that Washington sought a bloodless coup in Iraq with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The German Foreign Ministry confirmed the ministers spoke by telephone, but declined to comment on the content of their discussion.

Boucher noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have both spoken in favor of Saddam resigning.

"But I'm not aware of any active efforts to promote such proposals," he added.

"If the Iraqi leadership should decide to abandon its aims or abandon the country or if we have to force him to abandon the country, one way or the other, Iraq is going to disarm.

"We've also made very, very clear that the U.N. process is an effort by the international community, a final opportunity for the Iraqi regime to disarm peacefully," he said.

He, however, said that the United States wants to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully, if possible, and pointed out to a new U.N. resolution, adopted last week, which renewed the oil-for-food program for Iraq.

"We got things added to the goods review list, just like we said we would," he added.

Asked if Iraq was misusing the oil-for-food program, Boucher said: "We have a set of sanctions that apply to any kind of assistance to Iraq in areas that help weapons of mass destruction, and that's a process that all nations in the world should abide by."

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