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Iraq: U.S. Sees Long-Term Threat As Long As Saddam Rules

Senior U.S. officials say Iraq will remain a threat to peace and security as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. That's why, they say, it is necessary for the U.S. to keep large forces in the Persian Gulf to contain him. Our correspondent K.P. Foley reports on testimony given at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Washington, 20 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials say Iraq is still a very serious threat to the security of the Persian Gulf, as well as to the vital interests of the United States and its allies.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Walker told the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee that Iraq will pose a threat as long as President Saddam Hussein remains in power.

"Iraq under Saddam Hussein remains dangerous, unreconstructed, and defiant. Saddam's record makes clear that he will remain a threat to the regional peace and security as long as he remains in power."

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe said the threat posed by Saddam justifies the expense of maintaining a large U.S. military presence in the Gulf in order to contain Iraq.

"Compared with ignoring the problem or seeking simplistic quick fixes, it is both cheap and safe."

The Senate committee is charged with overseeing defense and military operations. Chairman John Warner (R-Virginia) said he convened the hearing to review U.S. policy toward Iraq. Warner said some legislators feel the policy of containing Saddam has failed because he remains in power a decade after Iraq was defeated by an international coalition in the Persian Gulf War.

For example, Senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) said the people of Iraq are still miserable, and he said the international coalition built with U.S. leadership has fallen apart. Thurmond asserted that some United Nations members want to lift sanctions imposed on Iraq since the end of the war, and he said some Arab states are ready to make accommodations with Iraq for the sake of ethnic unity.

Slocombe said senior U.S. government policymakers are always ready to reassess the policy, but for now, he said the U.S. is on the right path.

"We are obviously prepared to consider, and we do consider on a continuing basis, how we need to adjust our policy to take account of new circumstances and, where there are better ideas, to adopt them. But we are satisfied, after intense consideration over a long period of time, that there is no better fundamental alternative than the basic policy that we are following."

Slocombe added that resolving the ongoing Iraqi crisis will take time and effort.

"Managing the Iraq problem is not a short-term effort. It requires patience, vigilance, perseverance, and sensitivity to the realities in Iraq, in the region, and at the UN. In particular, it requires work with other nations who, with very few exceptions, share our basic reasons for resisting Saddam's ambitions, but have their own perspectives, interests, and approaches. "

Assistant Secretary Walker pointed out that Iraq is again demonstrating threatening behavior toward Kuwait -- the nation it invaded in 1990 -- and that Saddam is openly defiant of the United Nations.

"It is clear that the Iraqi regime will not live in peace with its neighbors, will not relinquish what remains of its weapons of mass destruction, and will not cease its repression of the Iraqi people."

Walker says that all the U.S. and its international partners want is a peaceful, law-abiding Iraq. But he says that does not appear possible with Saddam in Baghdad.

"Our objectives have remained constant -- an Iraq that lives in peace with its neighbors and respects the rights of its people. But we have come to the conclusion that the character of this regime and its evident intention to retain its weapons of mass destruction at all costs means that the chances of achieving those objectives with this regime in place are very small."

Undersecretary Slocombe added that any lessening of the U.S. resolve to deter Iraqi aggression would have disastrous and far-reaching consequences.

"The consequences of ending our military operations would be severe not only for the people of Iraq and for the region and for the credibility of the United Nations, but for critical U.S. interests. Specifically, if we reduced our military presence in the region below the levels assessed as needed in prevailing conditions, we would simultaneously encourage Iraqi aggression and cripple our ability to meet it."

Walker added that even if Iraq were to meet its international obligations and sanctions were suspended and eventually lifted, Iraq would still represent a threat and would still need to be contained until, in his words: "the Iraqi people overthrew the criminal enterprise that passes itself off as a government. That's why our policy is containment until regime change."