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Powell 'looking at every option' on Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As he travels to the Middle East to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait, Secretary of State Colin Powell faces the monumental challenge gaining support for a revamped US policy toward Iraq.

Powell said Tuesday that he is "looking at every option" as part of a comprehensive policy review" on Iraq, which he will discuss with Arab allies in the region later this week.

It will be a hard sell. Ten years after the end of the Gulf War, Powell has inherited a sanctions regime which is crumbling around the edges and a sustained bombing campaign that has all but lost support within the international community.

Graphic: Strike on Iraq

Last week's US and British airstrikes outside of Baghdad have come under severe scrutiny from countries once considered part of the US' Gulf War coalition.

In meetings with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Powell will argue that a tough US policy toward Iraq is not only meant to protect the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, but their own countries as well.

"I will make those points to them, that the policy does exist to protect them," Powell said during a press conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "One of the reasons for our presence in the region, and one of the reasons we fought the Gulf War bring a new sense of security to the region. And for the past ten years they have enjoyed that security."

US officials do not really know whether Saddam has reconstituted his so-called "weapons of mass destruction," as Iraq has flatly refused to allow inspectors back into the country until it receives guarantees over what exactly it needs to do to get the sanctions lifted.

Next week an Iraqi delegation will travel to the United Nations seeking clarification on a UN resolution calling for a new inspections regime in the country.

Powell said "the only thing" Saddam has to do "to get out of this box" is to comply...with the agreements that were made at the end of the Gulf War."

Since taking office last month, Powell has spoke frequently of "re-energizing the sanctions against Iraq in order to minimize the threat Iraq poses to the world in a way that does inflict suffering on the Iraqi people.

"We don't want to hurt the Iraqi people," Powell said Tuesday. "But we don't want Saddam Hussein and his efforts to hurt the people of the region or threaten the people of the region. And that's what its all about.

But Powell has acknowledged said the key to tightening the sanctions would be rebuilding consensus within the Arab world.

The debate comes at a time when "sanctions fatigue" has hit the Arab world. Many Arab states, such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emerites, have sent humanitarian flights into Iraq in the face of a UN travel ban imposed after the Gulf War. While the flights are technically in violation of the sanctions, US officials have admitted the "spirit" of the sanctions has been violated.

One such way of ensuring Saddam remains "in his box "is making sure the money he earns from his oil remains under the supervision of the United Nations, and not spent on weapons.

Powell is expected to press countries in the region, to stop buying Iraqi oil smuggled out of the country beyond UN control. Syria, for instance, has increased its purchase of illegal Iraqi oil.

Officials say the US and Britain are likely to advocate "smarter" sanctions, which could mean easing sanctions on civilian goods in order to help the Iraqi people, while tightening financial controls over oil sales and restrictions on military and "dual use" equipment.

The US is also stepping up its support for the Iraqi opposition. Some members of the Bush administration advocate arming the opposition, although plans for such a move are unlike to come to fruition. However, US officials do admit the opposition could be useful in reaching out to the Iraqi people with the message that there is an alternative to Saddam.

Last week members of the Iraqi National Congress came to Washington to discuss their desire to start broadcasting in Iraq, investigating war crimes Saddam committed against Iraqis and distributing humanitarian aid. They also got US permission to operate within the country using US funds, once they provide adequate documentation of their plans.

Another challenge to the Bush administration is keeping the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians from hampering US policy toward Iraq. The Palestinian intifada has made Saddam Hussein more popular than ever in the Arab world. Saddam has offered money to families of Palestinians victims of the conflict, and has welcomed Palestinians wounded by Israeli gunfire to Baghdad for treatment.

Experts say that the longer the conflict continues, the harder it will become for the Bush administration to maintain the sanctions.

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United Nations
Office of the Iraq Programme
The Iraqi Presidency
Iraqi National Congress
Iraq energy profile, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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