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Pentagon Official: US Hopes UN Inspectors Succeed, But Too Early to Predict Saddam's Response - 2002-11-26

A top Defense Department official says the Bush administration hopes Iraq will agree to give up its weapons of mass destruction peacefully but says force will be used if Baghdad does not.

Mr. Wolfowitz said it is too early to predict what level of cooperation Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will extend to the United Nations weapons inspectors now in the country.

But in a radio interview, Mr. Wolfowitz said the United States is extending assistance to the inspectors in hopes their effort will succeed. "We are anxious to do everything we can to assist the inspectors with their task. Obviously there are things like the sharing of intelligence that have to be handled in very careful ways. But we want to see them succeed and of course the real key to success is going to be is there a change in attitude on the part of Saddam Hussein," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

The Deputy Defense Secretary said the purpose of the inspectors is not to go around searching through Iraq to find every weapon of mass destruction and destroy it. He said if that is what they have to do, then in his view the system has failed.

"The only way they can succeed is if Saddam Hussein has this genuine change of heart, really does come forward with what he's got and says here it is, I am basically pleading for my survival," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

But Mr. Wolfowitz says if Saddam Hussein tells the U.N. inspectors Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, then the Pentagon official says that would have to be taken as what he calls a "fairly strong sign of non-cooperation."

While he voices hope for a peaceful disarmament, Mr. Wolfowitz emphasizes the United States is poised to take military action against Iraq and expects to receive the support of other countries, suggesting it would be a beneficial extension of the war on terrorism.

"A state that sponsors terrorists and terrorizes its own people is almost defining itself as part of the war on terrorism. But I also believe that we will succeed one way or the other in disarming this terrorist regime of its terrorist weapons, that that is going to have a salutary effect on other parts of the war on terrorism," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz said he expects what he terms "all kinds of very, very dangerous actions" by Saddam Hussein and said no one should underestimate the seriousness of the risks faced by the international community.

But he said the risks of not doing anything are even greater and believes any further delays in confronting the problem only make the situation more dangerous.

Still, Mr. Wolfowitz said he does not believe the Iraqi leader has wide support in his own country and hints there could be a spontaneous popular uprising. As he puts it, there are very few people who want to be the last to die for Saddam Hussein.