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Powell: U.S. would place Iraq oil in trust

Powell said this week that
Powell said this week that "difficult choices" will follow Monday's weapon inspectors' report.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's oil "belongs to the Iraqi people" and the United States would hold Iraqi reserves in trust if it occupied Iraq after a war, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

In an interview with regional newspaper reporters, the transcripts of which were released Wednesday by the State Department, Powell said Iraqi oil "will be held for and used for the people of Iraq."

"It will not be exploited for the United States' own purpose," he said. "We will follow religiously international law, which gives clear guidance with respect to the responsibilities of an occupying power, if it comes to that."

Both domestic and international critics of the Bush administration's confrontation with Iraq say oil -- not a professed desire that Iraq give up its weapons of mass destruction -- is the U.S. motivation. The Iraqi government has said the United States wants a war in order to assert control over Middle Eastern oil production.

Powell said the United States is "studying different models" of how Iraq's oil fields would be operated under a U.S.-led occupation, "but the one thing I can assure you of is that it will be held in trust for the Iraqi people, to benefit the Iraqi people. That is a legal obligation that the occupying power will have."

Powell said the United Nations can't back away from the serious consequences it threatened in the resolution that sent inspectors back to Iraq in November.

U.N. weapons inspectors are scheduled to report to the Security Council on Monday, and Powell said this week that "difficult choices" will follow the report. But at least two of the Security Council's permanent members, France and Russia, say they want to give inspectors more time to work.

"It is a chilling prospect for many nations, but the United States clearly understood that a day might come when we would have to take those steps in the absence of Saddam Hussein disarming," Powell said. "And we are getting closer to that moment of truth."

He said U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq "are not working," and that Iraq needs to demonstrate that it has given up its pursuit of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

"Unless we see that kind of change in attitude on the part of Iraq, then how much longer should inspections go on? One month, two months, three months?" he asked. "What will be the difference if they are simply trying to get time in order to frustrate the purpose of the inspections?"

Powell also indicated the United States would be willing to forgo any prosecution of the Iraqi president or top members of his Baath Party if Saddam went into exile.

"I think we would be receptive to anything that would get him and his family and his cohorts, the immediate group around him, out of power," he said.


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