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Southeast Asian Countries Divided on Iraq Attack - 2002-09-09


In Southeast Asia, opinions are divided as to whether the United States should carry out pre-emptive military action against Iraq. Leaders in the predominantly Muslim countries of Indonesia and Malaysia warn against the idea. Others want the United Nations to play a stronger role in heading off a potential conflict. Indonesia's vice president says Jakarta would not support a unilateral attack on Iraq carried out by the United States. Hamzah Haz told reporters that such an action cannot be justified. Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri was the first leader of a predominantly Muslim country to visit Washington after the September 11 terrorist attacks. She pledged her support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Since then, Ms. Megawati has changed her tone slightly. After leaving Washington, she warned a prolonged U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan or elsewhere could undermine worldwide support for American efforts. Malaysia has taken a similar view. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed has said that an attack on Iraq could stir up anti-American sentiment, leading to further terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. The leader of Malaysia's Islamic fundamentalist opposition party is calling for Muslim countries to impose an oil embargo on the United States as a way to block military action.

In the past week, the White House has embarked on a diplomatic offensive to gain international support for removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power before he can fully develop weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to present his case Thursday to the United Nations General Assembly.

Australia Prime Minister John Howard has been the most loyal regional supporter of the U.S. led war on terrorism. But in recent days he has cautioned against unilateral US action, stressing the need for U.N. involvement.

"The United Nations has got to face its responsibilities," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "There is no doubt on the evidence, the intelligence material available to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations ... if Iraq ... were to allow unconditional and enforceable inspections and dismantling ... then the dynamics of this whole thing could be transformed overnight." New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says she is not convinced that Iraq poses enough of a threat to justify unilateral action by the United States. Instead she is backing calls for the United Nations to do more to head off a conflict.

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