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Former Israeli PM  Urges US to Act Swiftly against Iraq - 2002-09-13


A former Israeli prime minister says the United States cannot afford to wait for international approval before it moves to eliminate the threat posed by Iraqi weapons development. Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before a congressional panel as lawmakers were reacting to President Bush's U.N. speech.

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu's appearance came amid generally supportive congressional reaction to President Bush's speech to the United Nations.

Mr. Netanyahu told lawmakers that the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the great loss of life they caused, should provide sufficient warning that quick action is needed.

"Make no mistake about it, if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror network will have nuclear weapons," he said. "Once the terror network has nuclear weapons, it is only a matter of time before those weapons will be used."

In 1981, Israel acted on its own to destroy an Iraqi nuclear reactor it suspected was being used to develop plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Mr. Netanyahu said the United States needs to act in a similar fashion, even without approval by the international community.

"Israel acted because it understood, we understood, that a nuclear-armed Saddam would place our very survival at risk," he said. "And today the United States must destroy the same regime, because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk."

Mr. Netanyahu pointed out Israelis would support a pre-emptive U.S. strike. But he said the United States should ensure Israel has time to prepare its people for potential biological or chemical retaliation from Iraq before Washington acts.

Divisions remain in Congress over Iraq. Republicans say Congress needs to move quickly to debate and pass a resolution of support. Senate minority leader Trent Lott said, "It's vital for the Congress to show the world that we back this president and will give him the authority he needs to protect the American people and the world community. We must vote to show support for the President, right now."

But democrats continue to caution against a rush to action. House minority leader Richard Gephardt said, "We're trying to give and get information to members of Congress and the American public about this whole set of issues, and that's an ongoing process. The hearings are just beginning in Congress on what this is all about and what to do about it."

Mr. Gephardt noted that President Bush intends to ask Congress for a formal resolution of support before the October congressional adjournment for elections.

For its part, the administration appears to be providing more information in an effort to persuade Congress. About 10 democratic and republican House members received a classified briefing Thursday at the White House, and some said they had heard new details about Iraq.

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