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Floating the Hussein exile idea

From Idi Amin of Uganda to Jean- Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier of Haiti. From the Shah of Iran to Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, the pages of history are littered with the names of America's favorite tyrants forced into exile when the tyranny became too great to bear. And so now the idea is circulating in the Gulf region of exile for Saddam Hussein as a strategy for avoiding war.

You know that something serious is afoot when three top American officials make the rounds of Sunday television shows saying essentially the same thing. "I would encourage Saddam Hussein ... to listen," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "A fair trade to avoid war," said Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. "It would be good to explore it," said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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The removal of Mr. Hussein, voluntarily or by action of the Iraqi military, is an idea that seems to have originated with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, desperate not to have to face a US demand that they support an invasion. The exile idea is reportedly being discussed by Iraq's neighbors at a meeting in Ankara this week. It's not clear whether Hussein has given any encouragement to the promoters of the exile option.

Saudi Arabian intelligence has reportedly been in contact with Hussein's son, Qusai, about amnesty for his father and a comfortable place of exile for his large family. The result of these talks remains secret.

Iraq's neighbors are reportedly also discussing a possible United Nations resolution extending amnesty to any of Hussein's lieutenants who participate in his removal. Left open is the question of whether to offer immunity from international prosecution to the Iraqi tyrant himself as part of an abdication deal. That, in any event, could not prevent any government so minded from filing criminal charges against him.

The idea of offering immunity to a mass killer as a way to avoid war, however tempting, would surely create political problems for the Bush administration. So, the administration's strategy for the moment seems to be to leave the initiative to countries in the region, but doing nothing to discourage the exile idea.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.