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Rumsfeld supports asylum for Saddam to avoid war

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday he would support granting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein immunity from prosecution if he would leave his country in order to avoid a war.

Despite Rumsfeld's comments, he and other administration officials continued what appears to be a march toward war. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the question was not whether United Nations weapons inspectors find a "smoking gun" in Iraq—which they say they have not—but whether Saddam is assisting the international effort to find and dismantle weapons of mass destruction.

"The test is, is Saddam Hussein cooperating or is he not cooperating?" Rumsfeld said Sunday on Fox. "That's what the U.N. said—file a correct declaration, open things up, show the world what you have. He's not doing that. I mean, you could spend years and years roaming around a country that size trying to find underground tunnels and see where he's located things."

Both Rumsfeld and Powell said separately Sunday that the United States expects to know quickly whether Saddam is fulfilling his obligations under a United Nations resolution calling on him to disarm. If Iraq is going to cooperate, "that's something you're going to know in a matter of weeks, not in months or years," Rumsfeld said.

"Time is running out," Powell said on CBS.

"We can't just keep bouncing this ball down the street."

On a weekend of large antiwar demonstrations in America and abroad, Powell, Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made the rounds of Sunday talk shows to signal President Bush's frustration with what they said was Saddam's lack of cooperation. They said that when weapons inspectors update the U.N. Security Council Jan. 27, the U.N. and the administration will have to judge whether Iraq's cooperation is sufficient to avert war.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld and Powell endorsed a notion reportedly being floated by the Saudis and others that Saddam should consider seeking asylum for himself, his family and top Iraqi officials in another country.

Rumsfeld told ABC that although he is neither in the White House nor the Justice Department, he "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."

But Rice was not optimistic. "I just think that it is unlikely that this man is going to come down in any other way than to be forced," she said on NBC.

Last week, weapons inspectors found a cache of 12 chemical warheads, in unopened boxes that Iraq had failed to report to the U.N. They also found 3,000 pages of documents in the home of a nuclear scientist, said chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is are these just sort of remnants left of a program of the past, or are they tips of an iceberg?" Blix said on CNN.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.