A top U.S. defense official is rejecting the notion that the ongoing tension in the Middle East is distracting the Bush administration from considering a move against Iraq.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is considered one of the administration's leading advocates of removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.
Addressing journalists in Washington Wednesday, the number two official at the Pentagon sought to dispel the suggestion that the Bush administration's preoccupation with the Middle East has lessened its appetite for a regime change in Baghdad.
"Does it affect how we go about thinking about dealing with Iraq or Iran? You bet it does," he said. "Does it stop us from thinking or working on it? No, it does not."
In fact, Mr. Wolfowitz contends that a new government in Iraq would actually help the Middle East peace process.
"Iraq and Iran are major disrupters of the peace process. "One of their goals in life is to make sure that process does not work," he said. "If there were a change of regime in Iraq, would it help us in the peace process? You bet it would."
Mr. Wolfowitz also sought to play down differences within the administration over which Iraqi opposition group deserves U.S. support. He says there is general agreement within the government that it is not the U.S. role to "pick the future government of Iraq."
He told reporters, "It is appropriate for the United States to try to develop a policy that will ensure that what replaces Saddam Hussein is not just another Saddam Hussein with a new uniform on, that is a genuinely different system that is as democratic as can be achieved.
Mr. Wolfowitz says Iraq's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction and its record of supporting terrorism make it a danger that "we cannot afford to live with indefinitely."