Powell says U.S. weighing ouster of Iraq's Hussein


WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the Bush administration was considering a variety of options to topple Saddam Hussein, amid indications that President Bush and his top advisers are close to settling on a plan.

While taking an unusually tough tone toward Iraq, Powell was careful to draw a distinction between Baghdad on one hand and Iran and North Korea on the other, three countries that President Bush had lumped together as an "axis of evil" because of their quest for weapons of mass destruction.

"With respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea, there is no plan to start a war with these nations," Powell said. In contrast, in discussing Iraq, Powell delivered a stern message.

"With respect to Iraq, it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people," Powell said. "And we are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about."

Powell's comments, in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee, came amid signs that the Bush administration is preparing plans to dislodge Hussein from power.

Next month, Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to visit a number of nations that border Iraq, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. Cheney also plans to visit Britain, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, all of which are nations whose political support as well as bases might be useful for any campaign against Iraq.

At the hearing yesterday, Powell stressed that Bush had not made any final decisions and that military action was not imminent.

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