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Powell Reiterates US Wants to Keep its Options Open Against Iraq - 2002-02-15

Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated Thursday there has been no U.S. decision on military action to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, though he says the Bush administration is keeping its options open. He spoke after meeting Canada's new Foreign Minister William Graham, whose government is cautioning against precipitous action.

President Bush's mention of Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea, and the administration's stress on the need for "regime change" in Baghdad, have triggered concern among U.S. allies, including Canada, whose prime minister, Jean Chretien, says he is not ready to endorse a move to oust Saddam Hussein.

However in a talk with reporters here after meeting Canadian Foreign Minister William Graham, Secretary of State Powell dismissed the notion that the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism is fraying, while also insisting that the president has made no decision with respect to "any kind" of new military action.

"The president has not received any recommendation to take additional action, and we'll be in close consultation with our friends as we go along," said Mr. Powell. "But of course we have to preserve all options and we have to preserve the option to act alone if, as the president has said previously, we find that necessary. So the coalition isn't breaking up. It's been reported as breaking up since about the second day it was formed last September. And my experience over the last five months is that it has grown stronger and stronger, because there is a common vision and a common purpose: and that is to defeat terrorism."

Foreign Minister Graham, for his part, stressed the durability of Canada's alliance with the United States but also said his country will insist on its own values and its own approach to foreign policy.

Mr. Graham made clear there are circumstances under which the Ottawa government would support the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein though it is not convinced that the Iraqi leader currently presents that degree of threat. "Nobody is supporting Saddam Hussein," he said. "But everybody recognizes that in international politics, you have to have a process which before you invade a sovereign country, there has to be a reason for it, or we're going to lead to international chaos. And what the prime minister has clearly said is that Canadians will support an action against Iraq, if the causes are there. The two causes being cited are a link to the terrorism which occurred on September 11. That has not been shown. But if it is shown that they are amassing their weapons of mass-destruction, with a vision of using them against someone in the immediate future, that's a clear and present danger that we and all the world have to address, and we'll be willing to address it."

As to Iran, Foreign Minister Graham said Canada has been increasing its contacts there with the hope of encouraging forces in Tehran, represented by elected President Mohammad Khatami who want to "break away from violent, radical solutions" to the country's problems.

Mr. Graham, paying his first visit to Washington since taking office last month, said he "strongly" believes that Secretary Powell favors the same approach toward Tehran.