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Powell: New Iraq arms probe needed

Colin Powell: U.N. arms inspectors needed back in Iraq  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sunday for U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.

He also suggested a debate among the international community is needed over Iraq and downplayed talk about a possible rift within the Bush administration over how to proceed on the issue.

"The president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return," Powell told the BBC in an interview slated for broadcast next Sunday in England, which has been the staunchest U.S. ally over Iraq.

"Iraq has been in violation of many U.N. resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years," Powell said. "And so, as a first step, let's see what the inspectors find. Send them back in. Why are they being kept out?"

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Powell's call for a return of U.N. weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in late 1998, appeared to conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney's dismissal of their value.

"The return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance," he told a group of war veterans. "On the contrary, there's a great danger that it would provide false comfort."

Instead, Cheney made the case for pre-emptive action, saying, "The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action."

But a White House spokesman downplayed any differences between Bush's top advisers, saying the bottom line is that both want unfettered access for weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, and that both support the U.S. policy of regime change -- ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

What Powell told the BBC "is the same as what we've been saying all along," said Scott McClellan, the deputy White House press secretary.

He said the White House wants Iraq to submit to inspections with the goal of disarmament, though inspections are no guarantee Iraq does not still have weapons of mass destruction.

"Saddam is a dangerous person," McClellan said, adding the White House believes Iraq continues to pose a threat to the United States and the world.

Despite his recommendation for their return, Powell acknowledged Sunday that weapons inspections are not foolproof.

"We should not think that the inspections, in and of themselves, should give us the kind of assurance that we can take to the bank," he said.

But the secretary of state has favored amassing international support before any attack on Iraq.

"I think that the world has to be presented with the information, with the intelligence that's available. A debate is needed within the international community so that everybody can make a judgment.

Bush, Blair
Tony Blair has been President Bush's staunchest supporter for an attack on Iraq  

"I think, in the current debate, too much attention has focused on the United States and what debate is taking place within our administration as opposed to attention being focused on the Iraqi regime."

Those last comments apparently alluded to a split within the administration. Powell's voice of caution has not appeared in tune with calls from Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for military action.

The apparent split within the administration is also reflected in the party, which has also presented a fractured front on Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, expressed reservations in an interview Saturday with CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields."

"If, in fact, we unilaterally invade Iraq with no allies, where does that lead to?" the decorated Vietnam War veteran asked.

"Where does that go? Who governs after Saddam? How do we do it? When do we do it? What is the objective? Have we calibrated the consequences -- unintended consequences?"

He added, "These questions are very important, it seems to me, that the president wants to address -- I hope will address -- before we talk about unilaterally with no allies invading Iraq."




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