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Rice and Peres warn of Iraqi threat

Peres: "If there will be a war, we will be a good soldier."  

From Walter Rodgers

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Attacking Iraq now would be "quite dangerous, but postponing it would be more dangerous," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday.

"The problem today is not if but when," Peres said, "and if they think we wait, [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] will change, and if he will change, it ... will be for the worse; he will have more weapons."

It was a message echoed by President Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice who said Thursday there was a "very powerful moral case" for overthrowing Saddam.

In an interview with CNN, Peres said a war with Iraq would be "an attempt to bring an end to the government of one of the most terrible persons of our time, Saddam Hussein. ... And we think and know that he is on his way to acquire a nuclear option; then it will be terrible."

Asked how close he thought Iraq is to having a nuclear weapon, Peres said, "Nobody knows, but I would say a matter of years."

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Calling Saddam a "global threat," Rice said in a BBC radio interview that the Iraqi leader had "developed biological weapons, lied to the U.N. repeatedly about the stockpiles ... and had used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors.

"Clearly if Saddam Hussein is left in power doing the things that he is doing now this is a threat that will emerge, and emerge in a very big way," she said.

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"History is littered with cases of inaction that led to have grave consequences for the world. We just have to look back and ask how many dictators who ended up being a tremendous global threat, and killing thousands, and indeed millions of people, should we have stopped in their tracks," she said.

"This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us," Rice said

In another indication of the hard line the United States is taking, the State Department Thursday rejected the latest Iraqi offer of further talks with the United Nations over the return of weapons inspectors, saying "action is needed" by Baghdad. (Full story)

A note of dissent was struck by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the first President Bush during the Gulf War.

Writing in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Scowcroft cautioned against attacking Iraq while the war on terrorism was still under way.

"[T]he central point is that any campaign against Iraq ... is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time," Scowcroft wrote.

During the Persian Gulf War, Israel stayed on the sidelines. But it may be more difficult for Israel to sit out a new conflict between the United States and Iraq.

"If there will be a war, we will be a good soldier," Peres said.

Peres said Israel's response to any Iraqi strike would depend on the type of attack.

Asked what Israel would do should Iraq attack with weapons of mass destruction, Peres said, "I wouldn't commit myself. I don't think I can give you a response. Israel will be very careful and reluctant to go out of the conventional domain of weaponry."

During the Gulf War, Iraq launched Scud missiles at targets in Israel. Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear capability, did not retaliate, under pressure from the United States, which agreed to supply the Patriot missile system to Israel for its defense.

-- CNN Corespondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this story.




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