Republican warns against rush to war

James Baker is the latest Republican foreign policy luminary to warn President George Bush to resist launching unilat-eral military action against Iraq or an invasion backed by Britain alone. Instead, he urges Washington to focus on a new security council resolution insisting on intrusive United Nations weapons inspections and authorising all necessary means to ensure them.

In a swipe at the hawkish "go-it-alone" school led by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon adviser, Richard Perle, the former secretary of state under President George Bush Snr underlines the domestic and international risks "if we end up going it alone or with only one or two other countries".

This appears to be a reference to Israel, which is egging on Mr Bush to oust Saddam Hussein by force, and to Britain, the only other American ally that might be expected to contribute troops.

With his article in The New York Times yesterday, Mr Baker ­ who helped assemble the anti-Saddam coalition in the 1991 Gulf War ­ joins the former President Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and Lawrence Eagleburger, his successor as Secretary of State, against the rush to war.

He says a new UN resolution is required, although existing resolutions give the UN all the authority it technically needs to deal with Iraq. New authorisation "is necessary, politically and practically, and will help build international support".

Mr Baker backs Mr Bush's goal of a regime change, but says a full-scale military invasion is the only way guaranteed to achieve it. "The issue for policymakers to resolve is not whether to use military force, but how to go about it."

If America goes about it the wrong way, its ties with the Arab world and with its allies in Europe, as well as Mr Bush's first priority, the war on terrorism, could all be damaged. The perceived American bias towards Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict makes matters worse, offering President Saddam another opportunity to drive a wedge between Washington and its supporters, he says. Mr Bush should demand a halt to Palestinian terror tactics, a withdrawal by Israel from territories occupied since the start of the intifada two years ago and an immediate end to the settlement-building.

These arguments will be made in forceful terms by Prince Bandar, the influential Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, to Mr Bush at the President's ranch in Texas tomorrow during talks to smooth fraught relations. American impatience with the Saudi ambivalence over Islamic extremism has been compounded by claims that the regime has paid hundreds of millions of dollars of "protection money" to Osama bin Laden.

New claims that the Saudi-based Al Wafa charity's offices in Kabul had served as a chemical weapons laboratory will do nothing to ease tensions.

* American and British warplanes bombed targets in southern Iraq yesterday, killing eight people and wounding nine, an Iraqi spokesman said. Iraq's air defences opened fire and the planes left for their bases in Kuwait, he added.

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