- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

Senior U.S. officials said yesterday they would support efforts to persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his senior leaders to go into exile and receive immunity from war-crimes charges.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the exile of Saddam and the current Iraqi leadership would be the "regime change" that the Bush administration wants.
"This whole situation would be resolved if Saddam Hussein and all those around him who think like him his sons, the top leadership of the regime would leave," Mr. Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition." "If that were to happen, I think that would be just fine, from my standpoint."
Mr. Rumsfeld said he has always been hopeful that Saddam would consider living somewhere else, or that Iraqis would overthrow him. Exile, he said, would definitely be one way to avoid a war.
"I think that the people in his country know what a vicious regime he runs, and they may decide to throw him out," Mr. Rumsfeld said on ABC's "This Week." "He and his family may decide that they've run their string and that they'll leave. I just don't know. Certainly, either of those courses would be preferable to the use of force."
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also supported exploring various ways to strip Saddam of power.
"If there are ways for him to get out of power, it would be good to explore it," Miss Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I just think that it is unlikely that this man is going to come down in any other way than to be forced."
Despite their talk that war could be avoided, U.S. officials did not back down from President Bush's insistence that Iraq disarm.
The Jan. 27 reporting deadline for U.N. inspectors is "an important date. It is not a deadline, but it is an important date," Miss Rice said. "It probably marks the start of a last phase of determining whether the Iraqis have fully complied."
Officials in Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are reportedly working on a plan that would oust Saddam from power and grant sweeping amnesty for his senior officials.
Arab diplomats have said the exile idea has been presented to Saddam as a way out for him and his family and the Iraqi people living under U.N. sanctions for 12 years.
But Iraqi officials have dismissed totally any suggestion of exile. Ali Hassan al-Majid, a member of Iraq's decision-making Revolutionary Command Council and a cousin of Saddam, called Arab media reports on the possibility misinformation.
"These are stupidities and one of the methods of psychological warfare against Iraq," Mr. al-Majid told the al-Jazeera television network Saturday from Damascus.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said last week the administration would welcome the prospect of Saddam leaving Iraq but added that "it seemed unlikely that Saddam had any real interest in exile."
Yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld said on "Fox News Sunday" that he believed there was a chance it could work.
"I think that there is at least a possibility," he said. "His neighboring states are in a process now of trying to avoid a conflict there by having him leave the country. It would be a good thing for the world if he left."
Asked whther the administration would offer Saddam immunity from war-crimes prosecution, he said that was a question for the White House or the Justice Department.
"But if to avoid a war, I would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country," Mr. Rumsfeld said on "This Week." "And I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war."
Mr. Powell agreed.
"We would have an entirely new situation presented to the international community and we might be able to avoid war," he said, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation."
But two former U.S. secretaries of state disagreed with any such proposal.
Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Clinton, warned on "Late Edition" about letting Saddam "off the hook."
"I would not be very trusting of where he would go and what his future would be like," she said.
On the same show, Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President Bush, said Saddam would never give up his position.
"I will bet a dollar to a hole in a doughnut that he's never going to accept that," he said. His generals "may try [to overthrow him], but they'll all be dead before they get to him. I'll wager that as well."


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