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Lieberman urges United States to 'win the peace' in Iraq


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democratic presidential candidate, praised the U.S. military performance in Iraq but urged the United States to accelerate its postwar reconstruction efforts.

"We've got to work hard to win the peace" in Iraq and transform the nation's political structure into a "representative, democratic government," Lieberman told CBS's "Face the Nation" news show. "Obviously, we don't want this to turn into a theocracy.

"What we want to help them do is build a country in which all forms of Islam, all forms of all religions can be respected and not have freedom compromised in any way."

Lieberman, who supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, praised the "brilliance and bravery" of the U.S. armed forces.

Asked about concerns during the postwar reconstruction effort, Lieberman said: "We haven't seemed as ready as I had hoped we would have been."

He said he has been urging all along the lifting of sanctions and speedy provision of humanitarian aid.

"I hope that we can now move more quickly to achieve those ends," he said.

"We've got some delicate work" ahead and it's important to include all Iraqi factions so they can feel they will have a stake in a new Iraq, Lieberman said.

"I think we can do that," he said. "We've got to move more quickly to it than we have so far, though."

As for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, which have not been found and which represented the rationale for the U.S.-led invasion, Lieberman said, "I am convinced and remain convinced" that Saddam had such weapons.

"We know he used them earlier. We know he had enormous quantities that were never accounted for. And that's why we've got to continue to look for them. He clearly hid them. We'll find them eventually."

Lieberman couldn't put a timetable on how long troops will be in Iraq. Pointing to the experiences in the Balkan wars in the '90s, he said, "deadlines are arbitrary."

"We may, over the long term, with the consent of the new Iraqi government, establish some permanent bases in Iraq. And wouldn't that be a dramatic change, where we have an allied government there in Iraq, at the center of the Middle East, where we may have not a permanent police presence, but one or another military base that's working in cooperation with the government there?" he asked.

Lieberman backs better relations with Syria, vilified lately by Bush administration officials, who warned the country not to harbor Saddam regime leaders.

The senator from Connecticut said he hopes aggressive diplomacy and the threat of economic sanctions will have an impact, and said there are signs that Syria is beginning to cooperate.

A rapprochement, Lieberman said, "would be one of the best results to come from our victory in Iraq over Saddam Hussein. Remember that Syria had the closest relations of any of Iraq's neighbors with Saddam."

He added, "There is no inherent conflict between us and Syria, geopolitically."

He said that if Syria is harboring Saddam loyalists, "We've got to give an ultimatum to the Syrians to help us capture or kill those elements of a Saddam Hussein regime that may be in Syria."

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who met in Damascus for more than two hours Sunday with Bashar Assad, said the Syrian president assured him he would expel any suspected Iraqi war criminals found in his country.

"And he went on to say, not just the deck of 55, but any," Issa, speaking from Doha, Qatar, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

In a report this month, the CIA said Syria has amassed a stock pile of the nerve agent sarin and is trying to develop "more toxic and more persistent nerve agents."

Asked whether the Syrian leader understands the potential threat he faces from a U.S. president who has said he is committed to rooting out terrorists anywhere in the world, Issa said, "I think he does."

But, he added, "he is surrounded by a lot of the old guard, many of whom do not get it."

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