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Powell Defends US Decision to Attack Iraq - 2004-02-20

Secretary of State Colin Powell Friday again defended the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq. And, in a policy speech at Princeton University in New Jersey, he said he believes the ouster of Saddam Hussein has been a factor in recent decisions by Libya and Iran to reveal details of their nuclear programs.

Mr. Powell says that even though post-war searches have thus far turned up no evidence that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, he has no doubt that Saddam Hussein would have rebuilt that capability and become even more dangerous had the international community failed to act against him last year and allowed U.N. sanctions to lapse.

In a speech at Princeton honoring American statesman George Kennan on his 100th birthday, Mr. Powell said the U.S.-led coalition rid the world of a regime that was building "palaces for its pampered" at the same time it was "digging mass graves for its innocents."

He said the war has provided an "object lesson" for others that has led to some important successes in non-proliferation, including Libya's decision in December to give up its secret nuclear weapons program.

"Don't let anyone be confused by the debates that are going on. America did the right thing," said Colin Powell. "We now know a lot more about proliferation activity. We can see now that the Iraq war and its aftermath was a contributing factor in the decision of the Libyan leadership to forsake the path of WMD proliferation. I can just see Colonel Gadhafi deciding what to do as he saw the war start to approach and as he considered his own situation."

Mr. Powell said the Libyan leader realized that he was getting nothing from the huge investment he had made in banned weapons, and that he ran the risk of outside intervention if he did not relinquish them peacefully.

Similarly, he said Iran has now admitted to some of its weapons of mass destruction activities after what he said were "18 years of trying to deceive" the International Atomic Energy Agency and the world.

He said Iran is slowly - still too slowly - coming up with answers to the IAEA's questions about its nuclear program. He said Tehran needs to pledge an end, not a suspension, to that effort and follow up those promises with action.

The secretary said he hopes other governments like Syria will realize that chemical weapons and other WMD programs will not make their people safer or their own hold on power more secure.

He said that is a point the United States will try to convey to North Korea at the next round of six-party talks on its nuclear program opening next Wednesday in Beijing.

"In these talks, we and our partners will communicate the basic truth about proliferation to the government in Pyongyang," he said. "Nuclear weapons won't make North Korea more secure, nuclear weapons won't make North Korea more prosperous. To the contrary. We need to find a diplomatic solution that will result in the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea's dangerous nuclear weapons program. We're certainly trying our best and I hope we will succeed."

Mr. Powell said the Bush administration wants to work with North Korea's neighbors to demonstrate they have no hostile intent, and that this is a time for Pyongyang to change its policies and strategy and work with those interested in helping it bring a better life to its people.

The secretary paid tribute to the ailing Mr. Kennan, who was represented by family members at the Princeton event, for his role in helping the United States prevail in the Cold War. He said the United States faces a different kind of adversary in the war on terrorism.

He said that war cannot be won on the battlefield alone and that it will require good alliances, intelligence cooperation and public diplomacy, but most importantly, ideals of freedom, tolerance, equality and human rights, which he said remain the United States' "greatest strength."