WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration wants new leadership in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein allows U.N. inspectors to resume their search for weapons of mass destruction, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.
President Bush has declared Saddam a menace and pledged to remove him from power, although the administration says it has not decided how or when that goal will be achieved. Bush has said all options are available, including a military campaign to overthrow Saddam if he continued to deny admission to the inspectors.
But Powell said on ABC's "This Week" that the issue of inspectors is a "separate and distinct and different" matter from the U.S. position on Saddam's leadership.
Powell said, "U.S. policy is that, regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq and the people of the region would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad."
The United States accuses Iraq of trying to rebuild its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism. Inspectors, whose job was to check if Baghdad has dismantled its means to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, have been barred from Iraq since 1998. Iraq claims it has dismantled all such weapons.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported progress during talks last week between Iraq and U.N. officials on Iraq's disarmament and the return of inspectors. A new round of talks is expected within a month.
Iraq has raised questions about whether allowing inspectors back in would affect U.S. threats to topple Saddam.
The president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, dodged a question on whether the inspections issue provides justification for U.S. military action against Iraq.
"The president has made no decision as to how he is going to deal with Saddam Hussein," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday." "We're in consultation with our friends and our allies. But we have felt, the president has felt, that it's extremely important to make clear that the status quo is not acceptable with this regime."
On CNN's "Late Edition," she said it is the U.S. position that Saddam "is not likely to ever convince the world, in a reliable way, that he is going to live at peace with his neighbors, that he will not seek weapons of mass destruction, and that he will not repress his own people."