US committed to hard line against Saddam's Iraq

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The Independent Online
The United States' hard-line policy towards Iraq was strongly reaffirmed yesterday by the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who warned against any easing of international sanctions. "The future threat has not been erased," she said.

Mrs Albright was speaking at a symposium on Iraq at Georgetown University, where she taught for many years. Her choice of the symposium for her first big foreign policy address to a domestic audience since she became Secretary of State was seen as a move to bring Iraq higher up the US foreign policy agenda and rebuff growing criticism of the US-led embargo at home and abroad.

Several earlier speakers had referred to the risk that the US could become isolated if it persisted in its present policy. Sanctions had only bolstered the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, and caused innocent people to suffer, critics said, and they warned that such views were gaining ground internationally.

Mrs Albright replied that there would be no change in policy. She insisted that sanctions had "dramatically weakened" President Saddam and had pushed him to agree the "oil for food" deal under which Iraq may sell a limited quantity of oil so long as the proceeds are spent on food and medicine.

Acknowledging pressure for sanctions to be eased, Mrs Albright said: "It is essential that international resolve not weaken. Containment has worked." But she added: "Iraq's behaviour and intentions must change before our policy can change. Otherwise we will allow the scorpion that bit us once to bite us again."

Rejecting calls for the easing of sanctions on humanitarian grounds, she said: "We do not agree with those nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted ... Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions ... by complying with all the Security Council resolutions to which it is subject."

She did, however, offer some comfort to the Iraqi opposition, promising that Washington would "rapidly enter a dialogue" with a successor regime to Saddam so long as it was "independent" and showed "an improvement in behaviour", including respect for human rights and repudiation of terrorism.