Bush weighing warnings of Republicans over Iraq

He says he's listening but will decide himself on a pre-emptive strike

August 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush said yesterday that he was listening carefully to a group of moderate Republicans who are warning him against going to war with Iraq but that he would make up his own mind based on information that is tightly held within his administration.

It was the first time Bush had so directly addressed the growing chorus of concern from Republicans, who now include former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for Bush's father and a close family friend.

"I am aware that some very intelligent people are expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq," Bush told reporters outside a community center here, near his 1,600-acre Texas ranch. "I listen very carefully to what they have to say."

Bush added: "I'll continue to consult. Listen, it's a healthy debate for people to express their opinion. People should be allowed to express their opinion. But America needs to know, I'll be making up my mind based upon the latest intelligence and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies."

In Germany yesterday, officials said that the United States had responded to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's statement that Germany was not prepared to have any role in a war in Iraq by sending Ambassador Daniel R. Coats to express the United States' displeasure over the chancellor's comments to the German government.

Schroeder said when he opened his election campaign earlier this month that Germany would not take any role in or help pay for "an adventure" in Iraq. While his comments reflected the concerns expressed by other European leaders about the Bush administration's position, Schroeder's comments, in a political setting, were more openly critical of the Bush administration.

In an opinion article published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, Scowcroft warned that an attack on Iraq at this time would jeopardize the global counterterrorist campaign. The swiftness with which Bush responded to the warnings reflects how seriously he is taking the concerns of foreign policy experts and senior members of his party. He appeared to be intervening in the discussion to minimize any perception of disarray within his administration that could limit his options or complicate his ability to galvanize support for his course in Iraq.

The president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, a protegee of Scowcroft in the first Bush White House, was heading to the Bush ranch here for meetings with Bush.

Although Scowcroft's warning was likely to be a topic of Rice's conversations with the president, administration officials said that she was arriving to relieve her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, and to begin her turn at her scheduled duty at the ranch during the president's monthlong stay. A senior member of Bush's national security team always remains with him in Crawford.

On Thursday, Rice said in an interview broadcast by the BBC that there was a powerful moral case for ousting Saddam, and that if he were left in power his threat would emerge in a big way that the United States could not dismiss. "We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing," she said.

An administration official said that Rice's comments, made for an interview about Sept. 11, were not part of a plan to persuade the public to support a war with Iraq.

Scowcroft's public comments, first made in a television interview nearly two weeks ago and then amplified in the Journal article, came as no surprise to top officials in the administration.

But his words landed with particular force because he maintains a close relationship with Bush's father. A Republican with close ties to the Bush inner circle said yesterday that Scowcroft would not have made his warnings so public without approval from the first President Bush.

White House advisers and administration officials who disagree with Scowcroft shrugged off his concerns, though, saying that they were part of the continuing debate about Iraq.

One senior administration official who also served in the first Bush administration said Scowcroft's views clearly represented the views of the president's father. "I think the first President Bush is telling his son, `Be prudent George,'" the official said. "We are being prudent."

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