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Carter: Iraq threat does not justify war

Former president calls for 'sustained' inspection team

Former President Jimmy Carter
Former President Jimmy Carter

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter urged the United States Friday not to attack Iraq, saying the Bush administration has failed to make a case for war and that military action could trigger Saddam Hussein to use weapons of mass destruction.

"Despite marshaling powerful armed forces in the Persian Gulf region and a virtual declaration of war in the State of the Union message, our government has not made a case for a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq," he said in a written statement released by the Carter Center in Atlanta.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to address the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. "Even if his effort is successful and lies and trickery by Saddam Hussein are exposed, this will not indicate any real or proximate threat by Iraq to the United States or to our allies," Carter said.

The solution, Carter added, is "a sustained and enlarged inspection team, deployed as a permanent entity until the United States and other members of the U.N. Security Council determine that its presence is no longer needed."

President Bush has rejected the notion that the United States should not act against Iraq until the threat is imminent. "Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option," he said in Tuesday's State of the Union.

Carter said inspectors managed to destroy many prohibited weapons in Iraq across nearly eight years in the 1990s.

"The cost of an on-site inspection team would be minuscule compared to war, Saddam would have no choice except to comply, the results would be certain, military and civilian casualties would be avoided," he said.

Citing statements by South African leader Nelson Mandela and British spy novelist John Le Carré, as well as a poll in Europe showing a large majority believe the United States is the country posing the greatest danger to world peace, Carter said, "America is not inclined to let foreign voices answer the pre-eminent question that President Bush is presenting to the world, but it is sobering to realize how much doubt and consternation has been raised about our motives for war in the absence of convincing proof of a genuine threat from Iraq."

If U.S. officials chose to step up inspections instead of initiate a war, he said, "There would be almost unanimous worldwide support."

Carter, the most recent Nobel Peace laureate, insisted Saddam is not a threat to his neighbors. "With overwhelming military strength now deployed against him and with intense monitoring from space surveillance and the U.N. inspection team on the ground, any belligerent move by Saddam against a neighbor would be suicidal," he said.

"An effort to produce or deploy chemical or biological weapons or to make the slightest move toward a nuclear explosive would be inconceivable. If Iraq does possess such concealed weapons, as is quite likely, Saddam would use them only in the most extreme circumstances, in the face of an invasion of Iraq, when all hope of avoiding the destruction of his regime is lost."

Carter also complained that the worldwide commitment to fighting terrorism that was generated after the September 11, 2001 attacks has been reduced "as Iraq has become the pre-eminent obsession of political leaders and the general public."

"In Washington, there is no longer any mention of Osama bin Laden, and the concentration of public statements on his international terrorist network is mostly limited to still-unproven allegations about its connection with Iraq," Carter said.

He also said the concentration on Iraq has drawn badly needed attention away from North Korean nuclear activities and other issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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