Rumsfeld backs plan to exile Saddam

The United States said yesterday it would not pursue Saddam Hussein for war crimes if he relinquished power quietly and went into exile – a scenario that would remove the threat of war from the Middle East.

Donald Rumsfeld, the usually hawkish Defence Secretary, told a television interviewer he considered the immunity- for-exile option a "fair trade" for the sake of peace. It seemed highly unlikely, however, that President Saddam would take him up on the offer, making his words a largely rhetorical gesture at a time when the Bush administration is being heavily criticised for its apparent determination to go to war. "To avoid war, I ... personally would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country," Mr Rumsfeld told ABC.

He said the offer applied to President Saddam as well as his inner circle. Either overthrow or exile, Mr Rumsfeld added, "would be preferable to the use of force".

Colin Powell, the more moderate Secretary of State, reiterated the offer on another television talk show, suggesting this was a co-ordinated public relations push the day after hundreds of thousands of Americans marched for peace in Washington and San Francisco in the largest anti-war demonstration for a generation. Recent reports have suggested attempts were made by Turkey and Saudi Arabia to persuade President Saddam to step down. General Powell said he could not confirm those reports but would be amenable to such an arrangement.

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