Washington, 27 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says America and its allies cannot afford to ignore a military threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Speaking yesterday before a group of veterans in Nashville, Tennessee, Cheney said time is not on the side of the United States in dealing with Saddam. Cheney said delaying action would make Saddam stronger by letting him acquire an even more dangerous arsenal than he currently possesses. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction, there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us," Cheney said.
Cheney said the imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's rejection of United Nations arms inspectors, and the hostility of the current Baghdad regime combine to produce "an imperative for preemptive action."
U.S. President George W. Bush said last week he has made no decision what action the U.S. would take against Saddam. Bush said he will continue to consult with America's allies.
Bush welcomed today Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Potential U.S. military action to oust Saddam was expected to be on the agenda along with the fight against terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Saudi Arabia has expressed opposition to any military intervention in Iraq. The use of Saudi military bases by the United States is considered pivotal to such action.
Cheney's comments were among the strongest expressions of the administration's belief for the need to oust Saddam before he develops nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. "Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and seated [on] top of 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail," Cheney said.
Cheney said the United States will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terroristic regimes. "Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitute as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action," Cheney said.
The vice president said the removal of Saddam would benefit the entire Gulf region. He said when the gravest of threats are eliminated, freedom-loving peoples will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.
Cheney also said the United States does not wish to subjugate Iraq. "Our goal would be an Iraq that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and religious group are recognized and protected. In that troubled land, all who seek justice and dignity and a chance to live their own lives can know they have a friend and ally in the United States of America," Cheney said.
U.S. officials say White House lawyers believe Bush has authority to attack Iraq without advance approval from Congress. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said today the president has legal authority to wage war. Fleischer added that it was a separate issue as to whether Bush will or will not welcome a congressional vote. He promised that members of Congress would be consulted.
A prominent Republican party member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Henry Hyde, said in a statement today that Bush is not obliged to obtain formal congressional approval to conduct military operations against Iraq.
However, Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, urged Bush to seek a congressional mandate.