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Cheney cites 'risks of inaction' with Iraq

'We will not simply look away'

Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States can't afford to wait in taking action against Saddam Hussein.
Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States can't afford to wait in taking action against Saddam Hussein.  

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- The United States can't wait until Iraq obtains nuclear weapons before taking action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday.

"The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action," he told a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

In his speech, Cheney underscored the administration's position that the Iraqi leader remains a threat and must be dealt with sooner, rather than later.

"I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein," Cheney said. "Some concede that Saddam is evil, power hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed."

Cheney's speech came in the wake of new words of caution about taking action against Iraq from some leading Republicans.

Administration lawyers believe President Bush does not need congressional approval to launch an attack against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. CNN's Kelly Wallace reports (August 27)

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Former Secretary of State James Baker Sunday warned President Bush not to "go it alone" against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but to build an international coalition.

In his speech, Cheney never mentioned Baker or other Republicans who have voiced concern about the administration's planning on Iraq. But he made it clear that the administration did not favor a go-slow approach.

"We realize wars are never won on the defensive," said Cheney, who was defense secretary under President George W. Bush. "We must take the battle to the enemy. We must take every step necessary to make sure our country is secure, and we will prevail."

"What he wants is time and more time to husband his resources to invest in ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs and to gain possession of nuclear weapons," the vice president said of Saddam.

If this occurs, "the implications would be enormous for the United States and the world."

Cheney said the Iraqi leader could be expected to "seek domination of the entire Middle East" and manipulate the world's energy supplies because Iraq holds 10 percent of the world's oil reserves.

In reviewing Hussein's background, Cheney said the leader has broken every weapons-related agreement he made with the United Nations after Iraq was defeated in the Persian Gulf War.

He has failed to destroy chemical and biological weapons, and he has continued to aggressively seek nuclear capabilities, Cheney said.

After Iraq refused to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors seeking to certify that the nation had no weapons of mass destruction, the inspectors left in late 1998.

Cheney said their return at this point would be in vain.

"The return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his [Hussein's] compliance with U.N. resolutions," he said. "On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box."

Nothing has stopped Saddam's programs, including four days of bombing by the United States and Britain in 1998.

"We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve," Cheney said. "As the president has said, 'Time is not on our side.' "

Al Qaeda, the terrorist network with cells in about 60 countries, also remain a threat to the United States, despite the U.S. victory in Afghanistan, Cheney said.

Materials left behind in al Qaeda hideouts and videotapes, such as the ones obtained by CNN, show the terrorists have the means to produce and use weapons of mass destruction, he said.

Cheney praised the veterans for their contributions in war and peacetime, and said President Bush had asked Congress for an 8 percent increase in veterans' health care funding and a 7 percent increase in programs.

He also noted the government's commitment to finding military men and women missing in action.

"This government will pursue its duty unless every last one is accounted for," Cheney said.

After his speech, Cheney hosted a private lunch for U.S. Senate Republican nominee Lamar Alexander and GOP gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary, now a Republican U.S. House member from Tennessee.




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