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Republicans caution Bush on military action against Iraq

WASHINGTON—President Bush on Sunday heard more cautionary words from within his own Republican Party about possible military action against Iraq, even as a presidential spokesman predicted that Americans and U.S. allies would support any U.S.-led drive to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., an important voice on international affairs, counseled the White House to clearly explain its case to key U.S. allies for Saddam's removal and seek their support.

"Some robust diplomacy is required. These coalitions don't happen by chance or by press release," Lugar said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This is going to require heavy lifting."

Echoing Lugar's concerns, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who along with Lugar is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that pre-emptive U.S. action to remove Iraq's leader "could set in motion a destabilization of the Middle East and South Asia."

President Bush has cast Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" aligned against the United States. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, laid out the case last week for Saddam's removal, saying the Iraqi leader has tried to obtain nuclear weapons and poses a growing menace to the civilized world.

While the Bush administration methodically prepares plans to oust Saddam, who was defeated in the 1991 Persian Gulf War but hung on to power, it has not said when a war might be launched.

The White House drumbeat against Iraq has opened public fissures within the Republican Party. As some hawks call for military action, other Republicans suggest that might divert—or even derail—the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Last week, Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to President Bush's father and to President Ford, urged the White House not to attack Iraq any time soon.

President Bush has not made a decision on military action, and once he does he will explain it to the American people and to U.S. allies, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said.

"President Bush also understands if we go forward, if he decides that we need to take action to minimize the threat that (Saddam) now poses, that he will do so in a way that will clearly be articulated to the American people, clearly articulated to our friends and allies," Bartlett said on ABC's "This Week."

Bartlett said Saddam's "abysmal record" assures the Bush administration "that we will have support."

"The president hasn't asked for support because he hasn't made up his mind. But I think you'll find many people rallying to such a noble cause," Bartlett said.

Some Republicans suggested the White House should act quickly against Iraq—with or without international support.

"We're talking this thing to death," Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said on "Meet the Press." "We're sitting around wringing our hands, and I think we're going to have to do something."

Richard Perle, a Republican who chairs the Defense Policy Board, an advisory committee to the Pentagon, dismissed the need to rally foreign support.

"Our European allies are just not relevant to this. And the one of some importance, the United Kingdom, is I believe going to be with us. The rest of the Europeans prefer to look the other way or cut deals with Saddam," Perle said on ABC's "This Week."

Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, said on "Meet the Press" that the Bush administration can rally the international support it needs.

"I believe we will have more support once a conclusive decision is made (whether to launch military action)," Kissinger said, adding that President Bush should "put it before the American public" and ensure that members of his administration "speak with one voice once the decision is made."

A former Republican presidential candidate, former Sen. Jack Kemp, said the United States should not take speedy unilateral action against Saddam and other regimes it opposes.

"There are a lot of thugs in the world," Kemp said on "This Week," "and very frankly, I don't believe that the United States can make it just a pre-emptive policy to go around and change regimes. ... I think that's rather cavalier."

The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, cautioned that even if Iraq allows U.N. inspectors to return, four years after ousting them, they might not find hidden weapons.

"There are limitations to what you can achieve with inspections. You cannot easily find mobile targets. You may not be able to find everything underground," Blix said on "Fox News Sunday."


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Lugar; Hagel.