Wednesday, January 22, 2003

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 (UPI) — The Bush administration should provide more evidence that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction before launching a unilateral attack that might not have the support of the United Nations and the rest of the international community, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., warned on Wednesday.

In a speech given in Los Angeles, Feinstein, a ranking member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said the United States appeared to be rushing into a war to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein without the hard evidence needed to convince the rest of the world that Iraq posed an imminent threat.

“The massive increase of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf appears to be an indication that regardless of the findings of the U.N. inspectors, the president may well intend to use military force to bring about a regime change in Iraq,” Feinstein told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, an organization made up of business representatives and members of the public with an interest in foreign affairs. “I find this deeply disturbing. I believe that the arms inspectors must be allowed to complete their task … and the United Nations Security Council must be the body to consider action.”

Feinstein said she was not opposed to an outright ousting of Saddam or taking military action in Iraq — providing proof was uncovered first that Saddam had violated U.N. mandates by secretly producing weapons of mass destruction. She said she feared that invading Iraq without such evidence would isolate the United States from its allies and from the Arab world, whose cooperation is vital in the effort to convince Saddam to step down and go into exile and, in the longer run, find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Efforts are being made behind the scenes by Arab nations to achieve a peaceful regime change,” Feinstein said to a warm response of an enthusiastic applause by the luncheon audience at the downtown Biltmore Hotel. “These efforts should be given a chance to succeed. What’s the rush to bring on the tragedy of war?”

Feinstein said the administration had not given Congress any hard evidence of Iraqi weapons program either publicly or in any classified briefings.

The senator later told United Press International that she hoped the Intelligence Committee would begin formally pressing the White House for more data once Congress settles in for the new session.

“If there is evidence that Saddam is not cooperating and he is engaged in chicanery, then that case should be made public,” Feinstein said after her speech. “Intelligence should be made available to us on the House and Senate Intelligence Committee, and then to the United Nations.”

Feinstein said the United Nations should consider using the weapons inspectors themselves as a form of deterrence. A long-term U.N. presence in Iraq, she ventured, would prevent Saddam from bringing his alleged weapons into the open.

“They provide a stabilizing effect,” she noted. “It is doubtful Saddam would be planning any use of his weapons. It makes more sense than going to war.”

Feinstein compared the inspectors to the U.S. military garrison in South Korea, which has been able to contain North Korea for the past 40 years and continued to serve as a deterrent in the current crisis on the peninsula.

Feinstein said diplomatic engagement with North Korea appeared to be a more promising approach in dealing with a potential enemy whose missile capabilities made it a more dangerous adversary than Iraq.

“I believe the administration’s current policy toward North Korea is more likely to produce a peaceful and acceptable outcome than its policy toward Iraq,” Feinstein said.

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