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Powell Faces Questions About Iraq at Earth Summit - 2002-09-03

The White House acknowledges Secretary of State Colin Powell will hear a lot about Iraq when he meets with world leaders at the Earth Summit in South Africa. Mr. Powell made headlines before his departure for Johannesburg with some broadcast comments on the Iraqi threat.

The secretary of state said weapons inspectors should return to Iraq as a first step in dealing with Baghdad.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush believes strongly that Iraq should live up to its international obligations. But he makes clear the return of the inspectors will not alter the president's view that Saddam Hussein must go. "The policy of the United States is regime change, with or without inspectors," he said.

During a session with reporters, Mr. Fleischer stressed once again that President Bush has not made any decisions regarding possible military action.

All the same, he was asked if Secretary of State Powell will spend much of his time in Johannesburg listening to warnings from officials from other countries opposed to the use of force.

"As always, different topics come up at these meetings," answered Mr. Fleischer. "And I assure you the secretary is as good at giving as he is at getting. And so if he receives any advice, I think the secretary will also be in a very strong position to give his thoughts and his reflections."

The White House spokesman noted the president has not asked for international support because he hasn't made up his mind on one course of action. He suggested warnings from abroad are not in response to a U.S. policy decision.

He explained, "You are hearing mostly as a result of world leaders answering questions from the press - answers to questions that have not been raised for a case that has not been made."

Mr. Fleischer went on to said that, if President Bush opts for the use of force, he will make his case in the strongest terms. He predicted foreign leaders will then see the situation very differently.