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Iraq debate centers on immediacy of threat

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger says the United States should persuade its allies to join in an Iraqi attack.
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger says the United States should persuade its allies to join in an Iraqi attack.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A member of the first Bush administration said Sunday that it would be unwise for the United States to attack Iraq without the backing of its allies unless it's clear that President Saddam Hussein is on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.

If the threat is so severe -- as Vice President Dick Cheney indicated last week -- the White House should persuade other nations to join the United States in a fight against Iraq, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Cheney and others in the current Bush administration have said that Saddam has biological and chemical weapons, which he has used against his own people and other countries such as Iran.

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"If he's on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, I'm ready to do whatever has to be done," said Eagleburger, who led the State Department briefly under former President George H.W. Bush from late 1992 to early 1993.

"But Cheney keeps saying it [the threat] is immediate, then we hear the president saying he hasn't made up his mind yet," he said. "I think there's a disconnect here, and I don't understand it."

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U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee, said he doesn't doubt that Saddam has the expertise, scientists and infrastructure to build nuclear weapons; all he's missing, Thompson said, is the material.

"We can't afford to guess wrong once we know what his intentions would be," said Thompson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"We have, in the past, underestimated his capabilities," Thompson said, referring to the Persian Gulf War and the findings of U.N. weapons inspectors who went in afterward and found more sophisticated weaponry than anticipated.

The inspectors, who were to certify that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, left Iraq in 1998 after the Iraqi government refused to cooperate with their mission.

It would be a "fool's errand" for the inspectors to try to return, Thompson said.

Eagleburger said he would back such a move only if it rallied other nations to support a U.S. attack to remove Saddam from power.

Both men said it appears inevitable the United States will attack Iraq, regardless of whether it gains international support.

"If we have to come down to that real hard decision of acting alone or not acting at all, I would reluctantly conclude that we must act alone," Thompson said.

Eagleburger said Americans must be ready to accept the costs of such a war: a destabilized region, anger from Arab nations and the need to occupy Iraq and help set up a new government there.




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