WASHINGTON -- In a speech delivered to newspaper publishers but little noticed in the press, the administration two weeks ago toughened its stand against Saddam Hussein by warning Iraq will 'pay the price' for his political survival.
Administration officials acknowledged Monday that the speech, given May 7 in Vancouver, British Columbia, by deputy national security adviser Robert Gates, was a change in tone if consistent with postwar U. S. policy toward Iraq.
Gates, nominated by President Bush last week to become director of the CIA, told the American Newspaper Publishers Association that 'all possible sanctions will be maintained' against Iraq until Saddam is no longer in power.
'Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government,' he said.
Those conditions for the relaxation of economic sanctions imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait echoed Bush's repeated declarations that the United States will continue to treat Iraq as a pariah state as long as Saddam holds on to power.
Gates, however, spelled out the U.S. view of Saddam in somewhat sharper terms, even as the United States consults with other countries at the United Nations on whether to permit Iraq to resume the production and sale of oil, its chief export before the war, at very least to begin paying U.N.-mandated reparations.
'Because of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the brutal repression of his own people, Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed,' Gates said. 'His leadership will never be accepted by the world community and, therefore, Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power.'
That, however, may be as much as negotiating position, designed to set firm terms for any relaxation of international controls on Iraq's economic and military power, than a set-in-stone declaration of U.S. policy.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Bush acknowledged there were 'certain areas' where the United Nations will have to lift restrictions, such as those related to oil, to enable Iraq to comply with the requirement for postwar compensation.
'But all of these things are down the road,' he said. 'At this juncture, my view is we don't want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.'
Administration officials have made no secret of their disappointment that Saddam survived military defeat in the Persian Gulf War only to then crush and demoralize rebel forces that rose up in arms to overthrow him.
Without suggesting how U.S. objectives should be met, Gates called for 'a new Iraqi leadership, one responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people and willing to live in peace with its neighbors.'
'A new political compact should be arrived at by negotiations among all Iraqis,' he said, 'not by force.'
The White House took a skeptical view Monday of whether that can be achieved with Saddam still in command. White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater welcomed negotiations on political reforms and limited autonomy for Kurds in northern Iraq, but said the question remains: 'Will Saddam live up to his promises?'
'We're optimistic that they're talking. It certainly is good that they've been able to reach these agreements,' he said. 'But like everyone, we want to wait and see if it's real.'