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Powell Sees Mideast Reshaped After Iraq War
11:34am Fri Feb 7 '03
Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday overthrowing the Iraqi government could reshape the Middle East in ways that enhance U.S. interests, and that the confrontation with Iraq should start to come to a head in a matter of days.
Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that attacking Iraq could cause "some difficulties" for the United States in other areas in the Middle East during the conflict and in the months immediately after a war.
But he added, "I think there is also the possibility that success could fundamentally reshape that region in a powerful, positive way that will enhance U.S. interests, especially if in the aftermath of such a conflict, we are also able to achieve progress on the Middle East peace."
The Bush administration has usually confined its argument for attacking Iraq to the alleged threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government could pass them on to extremists hostile to the United States.
But Powell said Washington's problem with Iraq was not just over Iraqi cooperation with the United Nations in giving up any weapons of mass destruction it might have, but also with threats it poses to its neighbors.
Appearing before the committee the day after his dramatic presentation to the United Nations on alleged Iraqi weapons violations, Powell said he thought the showdown with Iraq "will start to come to a head" when top U.N. weapons inspectors return next week from a trip to Baghdad and report to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 14.
From that, he said it should be apparent "if there's any chance of serious progress, and not just progress on process, but a serious change of attitude," in Baghdad on the inspections.
"I think we are reaching an endgame in a matter of weeks, not a matter of months," he added.
While France continued to signal it would not be easily moved into backing a war with Iraq, Powell insisted to the committee that his U.N. presentation was starting to sway allies.
"Later in the day when I spoke to each and every one of them and they heard what I said there was some shift in attitude ... that suggested more and more nations are realizing that this cannot continue indefinitely," he said.
President Bush has threatened a war against Iraq if it does not give up suspected weapons of mass destruction, promising action with or without U.N. Security Council backing.
Powell said he thought there may be more support "than some might think" for a second U.N. resolution to disarm Iraq by force if necessary. Bush has said he is open to seeking the second resolution to provide firmer backing, although he said the earlier resolution provides the authority to attack Iraq.
France, Russia and China, who with the United States and Britain represent the five permanent members of the Security Council, have said they would prefer U.N. weapons inspections continue rather than to see war.
Committee members generally praised Powell for the U.N. presentation that most said showed convincing evidence that Iraq was thwarting the inspections and had banned weapons. But Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, complained that he appeared to have "given up on inspections" prematurely.
Earlier on Thursday, Bush said the United States faced a decisive period with U.S. troops building up in the Gulf against Iraq.
"This is a testing time for our country," Bush said at the 51st annual National Prayer Breakfast, which brings together lawmakers, foreign leaders and spiritual leaders in prayer.
Bush referred to the confrontation with Iraq, the "war on terrorism," apparently the challenge offered by North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and the tragedy of the space shuttle Columbia crash as he offered prayers for the country.
"At this hour we have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There's oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror. One thing is for certain, we didn't ask for these challenges. But we will meet them," Bush said.
CIA Director George Tenet told the breakfast, "God teaches us to be resolute in the face of evil, using all of the weapons and armor that the word of God supplies."
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