- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) — The United States would try to find a refuge for Saddam Hussein and members of his inner circle if the Iraqi leader decides to go into exile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.

Addressing a joint news conference with visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Qasuri at the State Department, Powell said if Saddam were to "leave the country and take some of his family members with him and others in the leading elite who have been responsible for so much trouble during the course of his regime, we would. I'm sure, try to find a place for them to go."

He said that would be "one way to avoid war" and the United States had "indicated this before."

Asked if the United States would also grant immunity to Saddam if he decides to leave Iraq, Powell said: "It is not up to the United States alone to offer him that kind of protection. It would have to be a broader forum that might look at such a question."

The proposal for forcing Saddam to leave Iraq was first tabled at a meeting of Arab organizations in California in December and was later taken up by Arab leaders and diplomats.

Reports in the Arab media suggested that Saudi Arabia was playing a key role in trying to persuade Saddam to leave Iraq. Although some Saudi officials later denied such a role, earlier this month Saudi envoys visited several Arab and Islamic countries where they reportedly discussed the proposal.

Responding to these reports, the U.S. officials made it clear they would welcome Saddam's departure. On Jan. 7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States' "first choice would be that Saddam Hussein would pick up and leave the country tonight. That would be nice for everybody."

Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman, said later Saddam must either "change his ways or change his venue."

But today's comments are the first time U.S. officials have indicated they might be prepared to facilitate such a move.

Although efforts to force Saddam to go into exile have continued, no Arab or Muslim country has so far made an official appeal to Saddam to leave the country and save Iraq — and the region — from war.

Diplomatic observers say that those maneuvering behind the scenes would never make such an open appeal to Saddam unless they were sure he would accept it.


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