- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 29 (UPI) — Middle Eastern states Wednesday criticized President Bush's attempts to make a case for war against Iraq and his attacks on Iran's rulers in his State of the Union address.

In Iran, regarded by analysts as a key geopolitical factor in the region, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the United States was pursuing a wrong approach by renewed accusations that Iran violates human rights, attempts to possess weapons of mass destruction and backs terrorism.

Kharrazi said Bush's accusations in his Tuesday night speech were baseless and lacked credibility, the official Iranian news agency reported.

"The Iranian people do not need advice from those who are outside the country," he said, accusing the United States of attempting to expand its alleged hegemony.

Bush had called for greater freedom in that country, which last year was included in the "axis of evil."

"In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror," Bush said Tuesday night. "We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy."

He said Iranians had a right to "choose their own government and … the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom."

The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since 1979.

In Lebanon, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, opposing a unilateral U.S. military intervention in Iraq, said a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis was needed. The United Nations should resolve the dispute and Arab foreign ministers were discussing the possibility of a U.S. war on Iraq, he said.

Bush Tuesday said Iraq was arming itself and was a serious threat to the United States.

"The dictator of Iraq is not disarming," Bush said. "To the contrary, he is deceiving.

"The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate or attack."

In Kuwait, the government responded to a threat from Baghdad by asserting that an Iraqi attack on the oil emirate would be suicidal. The Baghdad regime would pay a high price if it threatened Kuwait's sovereignty, the Gulf News Agency said. The present crisis arose in the wake of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's seizure of Kuwait in 1990.

The Kuwaiti comments came after Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told Canadian television that if a U.S. attack were launched on Iraq from Kuwait, Baghdad would retaliate and turn Kuwait into a battlefield.

In Baghdad itself, observers saw Bush's speech as tantamount to a declaration of war, arguing that the U.S. war train had left the station but was heading toward an unknown destination.

Top army officers briefed Saddam Tuesday night, for the eighth time in two weeks, on preparations for dealing with a possible U.S. attack.

The daily Babel, run by Saddam's eldest son, Uday, lashed out at the report submitted Monday to the U.N. Security Council by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei, calling it biased and unfair.

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