Powell gives insight into Bush plans

Missile defense, revived sanctions on Iraq are priorities

`Lovefest' at hearing

U.S. might abrogate ABM pact to pursue goals, nominee says

January 18, 2001|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Giving the clearest view yet of the unfolding foreign policy of the incoming Bush administration, Secretary of State-designate Colin L. Powell vowed yesterday to vigorously explore the development of a national missile defense, rebuild sanctions against Iraq, ensure Taiwan's security and bolster NATO.

At a friendly confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell repeated international themes invoked by President-elect George W. Bush during the presidential campaign: promoting free trade, strengthening the military, deploying U.S. troops selectively and being wary of engaging repressive regimes.

Powell, who is expected to sail through Senate confirmation, reiterated several other Bush priorities, such as the president-elect's desire to amend or scrap the Antiballistic Missile Treaty to pave the way for a U.S. missile defense.

He filled in details of other positions, confirming that the Bush administration would not ask the Senate to ratify treaties to create an International Criminal Court or to institute a comprehensive ban on testing nuclear devices.

And he offered some mild surprises, expressing skepticism about the multitude of economic sanctions imposed by Congress on other nations and expressing support for Colombia's negotiations with Marxist insurgents.

"It may be necessary ultimately to walk out of the ABM Treaty and abrogate our responsibility," Powell said. "I don't think we're there yet."

The ABM Treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and the United States, bars all but limited systems to shoot down ballistic missiles. Bush's proposals for a U.S. missile defense are opposed by Russia and China, which contend that such capability would undercut their nuclear power, and by many European nations, which fear it would imperil global stability.

The senators took turns praising Powell's rise from modest origins to his status as one of the nation's most respected public figures. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, referred to the hearing as a "lovefest."

Speaking one day after the 10th anniversary of the start of the Persian Gulf war, which Powell supervised as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and which drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Powell said the new administration would work to reinvigorate economic sanctions on Iraq.

Iraq has operated under a strict international embargo since 1990. But in the past year, several nations in Europe and the Middle East have strengthened their economic and diplomatic ties with Baghdad, eroding the sanctions, which are supported primarily by Britain and the United States.

"Critics will say that tightened sanctions mean more harm to the people of Iraq, especially the children," Powell said. But, he added, Saddam Hussein's capacity to develop nuclear or biological weapons "threatens not only the children of Iraq but the entire region far more than tightened sanctions."

Powell declined to provide detailed blueprints of the administration's plans regarding Iraq and other issues, saying that U.S. allies, Congress and State Department staff would have to be consulted first.

His view on the use of U.S. troops in international crises has been closely examined by foreign policy analysts in recent weeks. Powell has long been wary of engaging forces unless clear U.S. interests are at stake, and some have accused him of having been reluctant to expel Iraq's army from Kuwait 10 years ago.

"It is very wise to go through a process that says: `What is it we are trying to accomplish? Is a military force the way to do it? Are there others who can do it?'" Powell said. He noted Australia's 1999 intervention in East Timor as an example of a U.S. ally's assuming the primary military burden in a crisis.

He declined to talk at length about current U.S. deployments, deferring to Defense Secretary-designate Donald H. Rumsfeld.

But Powell noted that Bush "has promised to look closely at our commitments in the Balkans, with the hope of reducing our troop levels over time and in consultation with our allies. This will be part of a much more comprehensive review of all our commitments."

At the same time, however, Powell tried to assuage fears held by some that the Bush administration will take an isolationist tilt that would diminish U.S. influence globally. He repeatedly mentioned the need to engage the world by promoting trade and democracy.

"We are attached by a thousand cords to the world at large, to its teeming cities, to its remotest regions, to its oldest civilizations, to its newest cries for freedom," he said.

Powell echoed Bush's warning to China not to try to reintegrate Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, by force.

On some issues, Powell expressed opinions that seemed at odds with the views of Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the powerful Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations panel, and other conservatives.

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