Powell: Saddam Can Avert Ouster


By Barbara Slavin

October 3, 2002

Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested Wednesday that President Bush's policy of "regime change" in Iraq could leave Saddam Hussein in power if he disarms fully. Though Powell said he was simply echoing statements by President Bush, his comments went a step further and marked the first time a high-ranking administration official has suggested Iraq's regime could change its ways and not its leader.

"The issue is disarmament," Powell told USA TODAY's editorial board. "If you can get the (weapons) inspectors back in, that can make sure under a tightened, tough regime, with consequences for failure to perform, you can disarm this society. ... Then in effect you have a different kind of regime no matter who's in Baghdad."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denied that Powell had shifted US policy. "Do you honestly believe that all these conditions can be met by Saddam Hussein?" he said. Bush administration officials, including Powell, have said they doubt Iraq will cooperate with new arms inspections. But the secretary of State's comments were softer than those of the president, who has repeatedly said the only sure way to disarm Iraq is to get rid of Saddam. Fleischer even suggested Tuesday that Iraqis assassinate the dictator.

In the Rose Garden on Wednesday, Bush said he hoped it would be possible to avoid war. But he vowed the United States "will not leave the future of peace and the security of America in the hands of this cruel and dangerous man."

Powell's toned-down language fostered new confusion about administration policy on Iraq. It could be a sign that Powell, a dove on other issues, is distancing himself from administration hard-liners. Or it could be a tactical effort to gain support for a US-backed United Nations resolution that threatens swift use of military force if Iraq fails to comply with inspectors. Key US allies are balking at the threat of quick force.

Administration hard-liners said privately a year ago that they hoped to craft new inspections guidelines so intrusive that Saddam would never comply. In the interview, Powell denied that was US strategy now. "My instructions from the president were to work in a way to get compliance," he said.

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