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Canada's Chretien criticizes 'regime change' in Iraq

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MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Friday strongly criticized U.S. calls for the removal of President Saddam Hussein and told the United States to limit its ambitions in Iraq to disarmament.

"If you start changing regimes, where do you stop, this is the problem. Who is next? Give me the list, the priorities," Chretien said on a visit to Mexico City.

He said there was nothing about ending Saddam's rule in U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, the legal and diplomatic basis for much of the international pressure on Baghdad.

"I think that if I read 1441, it's talking about disarmament of the government of Saddam Hussein. That is the resolution that we are working on. If you read it it is not talking about a regime change," he said.

Speaking to reporters at his hotel in the Mexican capital, Chretien was visibly agitated. He clenched his fists and held them in the air while speaking.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier in the day that U.S. President George W. Bush wanted disarmament and a regime change in Iraq, meaning the end of Saddam's rule.

Reached by Reuters, Fleischer said, "The president has made it clear his policy remains to settle this peacefully. He hopes it can be done peacefully, but the goal remains disarmament and regime change."

Canada, not a member of the Security Council, is pushing a diplomatic plan for Iraq that is seen as a middle way between the U.S. line and the stance taken by France, China and Russia, which are calling for Iraq to be given much more time to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors.

Canada wants Baghdad to be given a deadline of March 28 to complete certain disarmament tasks or face the possibility of military action.

Mexico gave partial backing on Thursday to the Canadian proposal for Iraqi disarmament as smaller members of the Security Council worried council heavyweights will abstain in an upcoming vote on whether to go to war with Iraq, and force smaller "swing votes" to make the decision.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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