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U.S.: Bush Says He Will Consult Congress, Allies Before Dealing With Iraq

There has been increasing speculation over the past weeks that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush may renew hostilities against Iraq, and that it may do so without the consent of the U.S. Congress or America's allies. In new remarks, however, the Bush administration maintains that it will take no action without such consultations.

Washington, 8 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says it has no intention of taking any military action against Iraq without first consulting with Congress and its allies overseas.

Bush has been accused of taking a unilateralist approach to issues ranging from international trade to the war against terrorism. Some critics say he is so intent on driving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power that he is disregarding the advice of Washington's allies, many of whom have come out publicly against the idea of military action.

Yesterday, Bush, along with his vice president and his defense secretary, made it clear that he has no intention of acting without appropriate consultations if he decides to wage a renewed war with Iraq. In a speech at a political rally in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi, Bush said he has not made up his mind about how to deal with Iraq. "We will continue to consult with Congress, and, of course, we'll consult with our friends and allies. We will discuss these threats in real terms, and I will explore all options and all tools at my disposal: diplomacy, international pressure, perhaps the military," Bush said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld echoed that point while briefing reporters at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld acknowledged the political risks of going to war with Iraq, most notably because the leaders of many countries, including staunch U.S. allies and friendly Arab states, have spoken out against it.

Rumsfeld said it is too early to speculate about a possible war with Iraq because the administration is not close to a decision. "I would say that we're at a relatively early stage in the dialogue, the international dialogue and discussion and debate on this issue, and I think it merits thoughtful comment," Rumsfeld said.

One of the leading elements of the debate is whether Iraq should readmit United Nations weapons inspectors. After the Gulf War ended in 1991, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to dispose of its weapons of mass destruction and end any programs it had to develop nuclear, biological, or chemical arms. The UN sent inspectors to the country to make sure Saddam had complied.

But the inspectors repeatedly reported that Baghdad was interfering with their work. Eventually, in 1998, the UN withdrew the inspectors in advance of allied bombing of suspected weapons sites. After the bombing, the Iraqi government refused to readmit the inspectors.

As the Bush administration has been debating how to deal with Iraq, there has been increased talk at the United Nations about pressing Saddam harder in an effort to allow the inspectors to resume their work and, perhaps, avert further hostilities.

But yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney said inspectors are not the crux of the problem. "The issue here isn't inspectors. That's a secondary item, if you will. The issue is the fact that he's required to dispose of his weapons of mass destruction, and the inspectors are merely the device by which the international community can assure itself that he's done so," Cheney said.

Cheney, addressing a public-affairs forum in the western U.S. city of San Francisco, said Iraq is a threat that must be contained. He said information from Iraqi defectors reveals that Iraq has continued to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. vice president said that unless the world takes action against Saddam, he will likely build an atomic bomb that he could use to threaten not only his neighbors, but also the United States. "Left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not-too-distant future, [Saddam] will acquire nuclear weapons. And a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein is not a pleasant prospect, I don't think, for anyone in the region," Cheney said.

At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld gave a clear view of why the Bush administration believes it must take forceful action against Iraq -- either alone or with its allies.

Rumsfeld said that because Iraq is probably developing weapons of mass destruction, the potential exists for Baghdad or allied terrorist groups to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans in a single attack. Faced with that prospect, he said, the Bush administration is now discussing the benefits and drawbacks of mounting a military strike against Iraq.

At the same time, Rumsfeld said, the administration is discussing the consequences of taking no action at all. "If we're dealing with weapons of mass destruction, the penalties for not dealing with that type of a problem successfully, whether political or economic or military, can be quite severe," Rumsfeld said.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Congress and four other Iraqi opposition groups are scheduled to meet tomorrow with U.S. Defense Department and State Department officials. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the meetings, to be held at the State Department in Washington, are meant to help the various groups coordinate their efforts against Saddam.

Reeker said yesterday that Secretary of State Colin Powell is not scheduled to attend the sessions.