| An Iraqi artist holds a picture of Saddam Hussein during a gathering in Baghdad. (AFP)
Washington, Jan. 20: Three top officials of the Bush administration hinted yesterday that they might consider allowing Saddam Hussein to find a safe haven from Iraq if that would avoid a war, even as they rejected calls for delay before confronting him militarily.
Asked if a safe haven could also mean forgoing war crimes trials, secretary of defence Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested that he personally “would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country. And I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war.”
In recent weeks, administration officials have spoken of offering leniency to Iraqi subordinates who break with Saddam, but have not spoken so directly of making similar offers to him. At the same time, administration officials say they regard the possibility of Saddam leaving voluntarily — with or without an amnesty arrangement — as extremely remote.
Secretary of state Colin L. Powell yesterday urged Saddam to “listen to them carefully” when other nations urge him to abdicate. And Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, said: “It would be good to explore it,” but added: “I just think that it is unlikely that this man is going to come down in any other way than to be forced.”
All three asserted that the moment of decision was fast approaching on whether Saddam’s regime had complied with the disarmament demands from UN Security Council.
Iraq promised UN weapons experts more help today, saying it was even forming its own teams of inspectors to search for banned weapons.
After two days of showdown talks with chief UN arms inspectors, Baghdad’s officials were eager to appear conciliatory.
President Saddam Hussein’s top adviser Amir al-Saadi read a joint statement at a news conference in Baghdad with visiting inspection chiefs Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.
Yesterday, Rumsfeld said the decision on whether Iraq is cooperating with the UN, a determination generally regarded as a possible precursor to war, would be made “in a matter of weeks, not in months or years,” adding: “That judgment call will just have to be made.”
Rumsfeld’s emphasis on urgency, echoing the comments of the others, seemed aimed at rebutting the talk in recent days that the inspections process should be allowed to play out in the next year.