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Iraq: U.S. Administration Says Saddam Still An Urgent Threat

Some members of the U.S. Congress who oppose going to war against Iraq say a letter by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency shows that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses less of a threat to the United States if he is not provoked. The White House responded that Hussein is a threat regardless of this assessment.

Washington, 10 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says it is convinced that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States, despite the conclusion of the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, that Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction only if attacked.

CIA Director George Tenet wrote in a letter to the U.S. Congress that he believes Iraq is now not likely to mount an unprovoked attack using chemical or biological weapons. Tenet added that he probably would use them if the United States took military action against Iraq.

At yesterday's briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked why Bush is threatening war against Iraq if his own CIA director says that might provoke retaliation with weapons of mass destruction. Fleischer replied that Tenet's assessment merely confirms the danger Hussein poses. "If Saddam Hussein holds a gun to your head even while he denies that he actually owns a gun, how safe should you feel?" Fleischer said.

The Tenet letter was cited repeatedly yesterday during the Congressional debate over a proposed war-powers resolution on Iraq. Legislators who oppose the resolution say the CIA assessment is strong evidence that making war against Iraq would not protect the American people from Saddam but would in fact make him more dangerous.

The resolution under debate would authorize Bush to take whatever action he decides is appropriate against Iraq, even war, if the United Nations does not act to enforce its own resolutions requiring Hussein to rid Iraq of its nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs.

The resolution would also require Bush to notify Congress within 48 hours of any military action he orders and to certify formally that his administration has exhausted all available diplomatic alternatives to war.

Bush says Hussein's threat must be neutralized quickly for the very reason that he has weapons of mass destruction and is trying to get more. Speaking yesterday at the White House, he said that if the United Nations does not act to disarm Hussein, the United States and its allies will do so. "But if he doesn't disarm, and if the United Nations won't act, for the sake of our freedom, we will lead other countries that love freedom as much as we do and disarm him. We owe it to our children. We love peace in this country, and when we see threats to peace, we will deal with them in a deliberate, calm, logical, and, if need be, forceful way," Bush said.

Despite the vigorous debate, both houses of Congress are expected to pass the resolution. Bush got increased support for the proposal yesterday, including from members of the opposition Democratic Party. Bush said final passage of the measure could give the United Nations the resolve to act against Iraq.

The Bush administration and Britain want the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that would require Iraq to accept weapons inspectors anywhere and at any time and would lay out the consequences, including military action, if Iraq does not comply.

France, however, has proposed a resolution that would not include reference to consequences, saying a subsequent measure can deal with that if Hussein defies the United Nations, as he has in the past. Russia says it supports the French proposal.

Britain, France, Russia, and the United States are permanent members of the Security Council, and as such have the power to veto any measure that comes up before the council. The fifth permanent member is China, which many analysts say will probably not get involved in the Iraq issue and abstain on any such vote.

Yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there is evidence that the differences over the proposed UN resolution is narrowing but not to the point where the two sides are drafting revisions. And Boucher stressed that the United States and Britain remain committed to the idea of keeping language about consequences in the resolution requiring stricter inspections. "We have made very, very clear that there needs to be a clear expression of determination, there needs to be a clear expression of the consequences. How the council will do that is a matter of discussion that's continuing with other members," Boucher said.

Bush himself got involved in the discussions. Yesterday he made a telephone call to French President Jacques Chirac and reportedly told him that a strong resolution is the best way to resolve the matter without resorting to war.