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ARAB-US RELATIONS - March 8 - Powell Hit As Being Easy On Iraq.

A report in IHT says Secretary of State Powell is taking the lead in shaping a new policy towards Saddam Hussein that is being criticised by conservative Republicans in Congress as too lenient. It adds: "In what is becoming the first major fight on foreign policy in the Bush administration, some Republicans are contending that senior Bush officials, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, are failing to live up to their pre-election pledges to step up efforts to overthrow Mr. Saddam. So far, they said, the results of General Powell's trip to the Middle East last week, when he talked to Arab leaders about sharpening sanctions, sent confusing signals about what the administration planned to do about the increasingly assertive Iraqi leader. Reflecting the sense of frustration among Republican foreign policy hawks, Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, said, 'It seems that with Saddam Hussein, we're saying we don't like this man in power, but we're then not willing to go ahead and take steps to remove him'. In an effort to answer the criticism, two senior administration officials said Tuesday (March 6) that General Powell's strategy on sanctions was only the first part of a still-emerging policy on Iraq. But they said thinking was still crystallizing on how vigorously to empower Iraqi opposition groups that want assistance in toppling Mr. Saddam. One of these officials said, 'I don't know anybody who has said we should just do the sanctions'.

On Capitol Hill, though, there were suspicions about whether the Bush administration would go beyond sanctions and whether it would actually assist the opposition groups with weapons and back them up, if necessary, with American firepower. Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage, the nominee for deputy secretary of state, signed a public letter two years ago advocating a more muscular policy against Iraq. The senior official acknowledged that the enthusiasm Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz had when they were private citizens might now be tempered because it had become more difficult to overthrow the increasingly confident Iraqi leader. General Powell has positioned himself as the chief Bush policymaker on Iraq and is trying to rebuild the international coalition that supported sanctions". The report says Powell was to face stiff questioning before the House International Affairs Committee on March 7 and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 8. The National Security Council has held several meetings to work out a new Iraq policy, "but administration officials acknowledge that they are hobbled because senior positions at the Pentagon and the State Department remain vacant". Wolfowitz, a supporter of Iraqi opposition groups, was sworn into office on March 2. Armitage is yet to be confirmed for his post, although he is working informally at the State Department.

(In his confirmation hearings, Wolfowitz gave a thinly veiled criticism of the Iraq policy so far, saying sanctions could be only one part of it. If there was a "real option" to overthrow Saddam, he said, "I would certainly think it was worthwhile". A former colleague of Wolfowitz's, Richard Perle, who was a foreign policy adviser to the Bush campaign, was more direct. "The changes that are being talked about will be no more effective than what we've had in the past", Perle told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee panel last week, adding: "Improved sanctions or smarter sanctions, none of them are going to end the threat from Saddam Hussein". Instead, Perle said, the Iraqi National Congress, one of the opposition groups, should be supported so that it could re-establish its presence in parts of Iraq not under Saddam's control. If Saddam made a "military response", Perle said, the US should have "assets in the air to protect that opposition").
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 10, 2001
Words:620
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