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U.S.: Iraq Debate Heats Up As Powell, Albright, and Kissinger Weigh In

The U.S. debate on Iraq continued on 26 September with the current and two former U.S. secretaries of state testifying in the Senate. But their views differed sharply, reflecting similar divisions in Congress, which must decide whether to grant President George W. Bush sweeping powers to wage war.

Washington, 27 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and two of his predecessors added their voices to the debate on Iraq when they testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Madeline Albright and Henry Kissinger, both former secretaries of state, agreed that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a threat but disagreed over how to confront him. They testified together ahead of Powell, who faced the panel alone later in the day.

The hearing -- one in a recent series in which former U.S. officials and experts have testified on Iraq before various congressional committees -- comes as the Iraq debate intensifies. Congress is considering whether to support a White House-proposed resolution to give broad authority to President Bush to wage war in Iraq.

At the 26 September hearing, Powell said the U.S. and Britain hope to get the United Nations Security Council to pass a tough new resolution spelling out the consequences if Saddam does not comply with weapons inspectors. But Powell acknowledged they face a difficult task in winning support from France, China, and Russia -- the rest of the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. He is sending a senior State Department official to Paris and Moscow to discuss wording of a proposed draft resolution.

In earlier testimony, Kissinger and Albright both said that Saddam's violations of UN resolutions give Bush grounds for attacking Iraq. But they urged the administration to get strong international backing for any such action.

But Albright raised a host of concerns. Among them, she urged Bush to exhaust all diplomatic avenues before going to war. And she backed the return of arms inspectors, adding if Saddam did not comply with them, then "the case for war" would be stronger.

Albright also questioned the timing of any war, arguing that Saddam is still "in a box" and that he should continue to be contained through sanctions and U.S.-British enforcement of the no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq. She said that war would further incite anti-Americanism and terrorism in the Mideast and distract from the war on terrorism.

Albright, considered "hawkish" when she led U.S. diplomacy during NATO's 1999 war on Serbia, took issue with the administration's new military doctrine of "pre-emption" rather than deterrence. She added: "There is a valid case for using force against Iraq, but timing matters. At a minimum, the administration still needs to develop a coalition, strengthen Iraqi opposition groups and develop a coherent blueprint for the post-Saddam era. It must also conduct diplomacy aimed at cooling tensions in the Middle East."

In dismissing such concerns, Powell made a play on words, comparing Albright's "box" analogy to the box-cutters used by hijackers to commandeer the jets they flew into the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001: "He [Saddam] continues to bounce against the walls of that box and one of these days he'll have a box-cutter and he'll be out. And we don't want to wait and see that day. We think we've been at this long enough and it's time to deal with the contents of the box."

Powell then took issue with the notion that war in Iraq would distract from the war on terrorism: "Almost every day now we see another set of arrests somewhere in the world. As we work with our partners in the international community, we see Al-Qaeda cells being broken up here; we're working with the Yemenis; we see things happening in Spain, Portugal, in Germany. And so we're hard at work."

For his part, Kissinger, who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the Vietnam War, said that while the United States should use all diplomatic options at its disposal, he does not believe Saddam can be trusted to comply.

He also rejected the assertion that an attack on Iraq would complicate the war on terrorism: "One can make the opposite argument: that by showing determination to prevent such threats, we will strengthen the war against terrorism."

In this way, Kissinger argued, Iraq and the war on terrorism are in fact intertwined.

He said that if Iraq is allowed to continue to defy America and flout international law, a clear psychological signal will be sent to terrorists and their state sponsors: They will feel free to plot more attacks on America -- and others.