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Iraq Debate - 2002-09-05

Debate continues over a possible U.S. strike against Iraq. U.S. President George Bush says he will make his case against Bagdad in an address to the United Nations General Assembly. He met with top Congressional officials from both parties to discuss Iraq. VOA-TV’s Deborah Block has our report.

After meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, President Bush said that, at the appropriate time, he would ask Congress to approve any military action against Iraq. Mr. Bush has repeatedly said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses a threat to the world and should be removed.

“One of the things I made very clear to the members here is that doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States.”

But some members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Dick Gephardt, are calling on the president to make a compelling case against Baghdad.

“I don’t think there’s one way to deal with this at this point. There will be an explanation at the United Nations of perhaps dealing with this short of military power. So there’s a lot to be done here.”

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has sharply criticized the U.S. policy on Iraq, saying he is appalled by it.

"What they are saying -- what they are introducing -- is chaos in international affairs -- and we condemn that in the strongest terms.”

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who is meeting with President Bush this week -- stepped forward with some much-needed U.S. support.

"And where we are in absolute agreement is that Iraq poses a real -- and a unique threat to the security of the region -- and the rest of the world -- that Saddam Hussein is continuing in his efforts develop weapons of mass destruction. That means biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons capability.”

Iraq has offered to work with the United Nations in an effort to defuse the ongoing crisis with the United States, and perhaps, head off an American attack.

At a meeting in Johannesburg with UN head Kofi Annan, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, made a conditional offer for a return of UN weapons inspectors.

"If the question of so-called weapons of mass destruction is a genuine concern by the United States, this matter could be dealt with reasonably, equitably.”

But he says the crisis has different aspects that should be addressed.

"The inspections, yes, the lifting of sanctions which is in the resolution of the Security Council -- the respect of the sovereignty of Iraq -- the respect of the integrity of Iraq.”

However, in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sees this as another Iraqi ploy.

"To muse over the possibility, we might do this or we might do that, and kind of play the international community and the UN process like a guitar, plucking the right string at the right moment to delay something.”

Mr. Rumsfeld says it would require an inspection team of such intrusiveness that he thinks it unlikely Iraq would agree to even half of it. For its part, Iraq is taking the U.S. threat seriously.

"We cannot take risks that they are not serious. They are serious. That's what we are thinking about -- and we are preparing ourselves to defend our country.”

Other countries in the region are also concerned. More than 100 Arab parliamentarians met in Baghdad to rally support against a U.S. attack. And Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo have rejected the use of force against Iraq.