Middle East leaders have little hope that continued sanctions against Iraq will now prevent war, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Wednesday.
In a telephone interview from Saudi Arabia, Owens told the Deseret News that leaders show increasing fear that "President Bush has backed himself into a corner with his deadlines and additional troops where if Saddam does not pull out, he will have no option politically but to attack."Despite that, Owens said some Arab countries - such as Jordan and Syria - are still urging the United States to give sanctions more time to squeeze Iraq and possibly avert war. Owens said he personally also prefers giving sanctions more time to work.
Owens, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has met in recent days with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Hussein and other officials in Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia. He is scheduled to meet later with Syrian President Hafez Asaad and the top sultan of Oman.
Owens said Arab leaders have divergent views of Iraq's power and what the best course of action against it should be.
"In America, we tend to think Saddam is 10 feet tall and all powerful. The people here know him and don't think he has that kind of power. In fact, the Egyptians say that after the first day (of conflict), we will seek the back sides of their soldiers" as they retreat, he said.
Owens added that the Egyptians feel military action is the only way to remove Iraq from Kuwait. But Syrians and Jordanians both are still pushing for continued sanctions instead.
He added that the Syrians also want Iraq to remain strong after the conflict as a military deterrent in the region against Israel.
But Owens said most leaders feel that the military build-up by the United States and the Jan. 15 deadline for withdrawal adopted by the United Nations have left few likely alternatives except war.
"Threatening action and not following through would bring a `wimp' image that politically would be unacceptable," Owens said.
He added that his tour of the Middle East has shown him that "the overwhelming reality is this is very much an American action. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria . . . and others may have troops here, but it is a U.S. action and we have the most at stake."
Owens was to meet with some troops from Utah in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. He said the main purpose of his trip was to explore options to further the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but the Persian Gulf crisis has ended up dominating most discussions because of its imminent danger.