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US Pushes For Saddam Exile Up to Last Minute Before Deadline - 2003-03-19

As the deadline set by President Bush approached, the State Department reiterated the United States' readiness for an exile deal for Saddam Hussein, that would include amnesty from war-crimes prosecution. But officials say there is no sign of any interest in such an arrangement from Baghdad.

An offer by the King of Bahrain Wednesday to allow Saddam Hussein to take up residence in that Gulf state in what was termed "dignity and without disgrace" touched off speculation that a last-minute exile deal might be in the works. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States,though willing to facilitate such an arrangement, has seen no sign of interest from the Iraqi leader.

"We've said we'd be willing to work with such proposals were they to be accepted," he said. "But at this point we've seen no such acceptance. We've seen continued refusal by the government of Iraq to take any option that provides for a peaceful settlement. And all we can do at this point is say: let's hope they take the offer."

Administration officials have said an exile deal, including some form of amnesty, would be a cheap price to pay to avoid war, though they say U-S-led forces would still enter Iraq to keep the peace and arrange a transition of power.