PRAGUE--Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a menace to his neighbors and pre-emptive military action may be warranted against him, Czech President Vaclav Havel said in an interview ahead of a visit to Washington beginning today.
"Saddam Hussein's regime poses a major threat to many nations and to his own people," Mr. Havel said. "The right thing for Bush is not to go in alone. There should be an international intervention."
The visit, which includes a meeting with Mr. Bush tomorrow and talks with leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives, will be Mr. Havel's final one to Washington before his scheduled retirement in January.
But in an interview late last week, the one-time dissident playwright expressed more interest in current issues than in nostalgic memories of 13 years as Czech president.
The Bush administration doctrine of pre-emptive military action could be justified on a case-by-case basis, said the often-ailing Mr. Havel, who turns 66 next month.
He said World War II might have been avoided had Western powers--Britain and France, in particular--not pursued a policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler.
One of Mr. Havel's last official acts will be to preside over a NATO summit in the Czech capital in November that is expected to sharply change the alliance. Meeting for the first time in a former Warsaw Pact territory, delegates will invite as many as seven more countries to join the alliance.
Mr. Havel said NATO enlargement is critical to stabilizing Eastern Europe and would lay to rest an ugly chapter of European history.
"It will finally show there are no more spheres of influence," he said.
His life-long struggle for human rights--he spent five years as a political prisoner under the communist regime--has won him praise and friendship from world figures such as former President Bill Clinton and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
But despite having joined NATO in 1999--along with Poland and Hungary--and the prospect of joining the European Union, possibly as early as 2004, the post-communist years have been difficult ones for Mr. Havel and his country.
He has waged a long battle against powerful political forces that scoff at the notion of civil society being a necessary component for a vibrant democracy even as they advocate what Mr. Havel has called mafia capitalism.
Now, the man who led the Velvet Revolution in 1989, which brought about the bloodless overthrow of the communist regime, says he wants a break.
"I would like to withdraw from public view for a certain amount of time, to read and write," Mr. Havel said. He declined to say whether he wants to do a memoir, a play or something else.
He intends to remain an active voice on the political scene. But he said power is overrated and he has no plans to hold office again.
"I can't find much empathy for those who yearn for power," he said. "I never aspired to it but it came to me, and has been a very interesting experience."
Jan Urban, a fellow dissident during the communist days and now a commentator for Czech Radio, hasn't always seen eye to eye with the president, but he said Mr. Havel has come full circle.
"He finishes exactly as he started," Mr. Urban said, "as a moral authority hated by a large part of the political class but admired by a large part of the population."
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