Tough talk against ‘axis’; some want quick action at least against Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) — Emboldened by success in Afghanistan, some lawmakers are beating the drum for quick action to get rid of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. They take a different view of other nations singled out by President Bush as trouble.
Saddam should be removed, and soon, of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said Sunday. “He is a time bomb.”
An Iranian official, speaking for a government also labeled part of an “axis of evil” by Bush, bristled at the president’s threatening language but pledged cooperation in keeping al-Qaida terrorists out of his country.
“What we have experienced in the past couple of weeks has been a great deal of U.S. rhetoric, outright animosity and hostility, that has been put by various U.S. officials against my country,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for international affairs, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
But he said al-Qaida terrorists are “enemies” of Iran and if any are found in his country, “we will return them to their own countries or to the government of Afghanistan.”
Bush’s State of the Union speech, lumping Iran, Iraq and North Korea together as an axis threatening international security, continues to resonate — through Congress and around the world — almost two weeks after its delivery.
North Korea called off a visit by a group of former U.S. ambassadors in reaction to Bush’s harsh words, two members of that unofficial delegation said on the weekend.
The trip had been arranged at North Korea’s invitation as a way to expand informal dialogue.
Lieberman, like many in Congress and apparently Bush himself, does not think all three “axis” countries pose equal threats or deserve the same response. There are “different gradations” of what the United States should do, the senator said.
North Korea can be dealt with diplomatically, the Iranians “need us to be very tough” and in Iraq, Saddam can’t remain in power, he said.
“We know that he has the means or the motivation to do us harm,” Lieberman said. “We know that he has weapons, chemical and biological weapons. We have reason to believe he is developing nuclear weapons.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, agreed, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Saddam was an “evil force.” But he cautioned that the focus should remain on terrorism; otherwise America might lose coalition allies.
“He should be taken out at some point,” Graham said. “My question is, is this the time to do it? Shouldn’t we be focusing on completing the war on terrorism?”
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also offered caution and gently questioned Bush’s rhetoric.
“I think we are better off, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, to speak softly and carry a big stick,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We carry a big stick, there’s no question about that.”
But Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, saw confrontation with Iraq as all but inevitable.
“These are strong signals of things to come, if these people don’t shape up,” he said. “I think, ultimately, we’ll be confronted with these people, probably in some kind of war.”
U.S. allies are nervous about U.S. intentions about Iraq, hoping Washington will not act unilaterally or very soon.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in an interview appearing Monday in a German newspaper, placed stock in assurances he said Bush gave him personally.
“Bush told me that he harbors no attack plans,” he told Handelsblatt. “I am relying on that.”
Bush publicly will not discuss his next steps against Iraq but has ruled nothing out. Privately, White House officials say large-scale military action against Iraq is not imminent and has not been planned.
But there is plenty coming out of Washington to keep everyone off balance.
At two congressional hearings last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Bush is exploring “the most serious set of options that one might imagine” against Iraq.
Lieberman specifically endorsed efforts to have Iraqi opposition groups pry Saddam from power — a course that has no far borne no fruit. But he also cited America’s military successes in Afghanistan as a lesson for those who believe U.S. forces would only get bogged down in Iraq.
As for Iran, officials there offered one conciliatory gesture when they announced they had closed the offices of former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Tehran and Mashhad. Hekmatyar, who is living in exile in Iran, opposes Afghanistan’s interim government led by Hamid Karzai and the strong U.S. role in that country.