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The Clinton administration moved against two of its Middle Eastern adversaries Tuesday, as President Clinton charged that Iraq could be regaining the ability to develop weapons of mass destruction and his national security advisers met to consider whether to impose a near-total trade ban against Iran.

The stepped-up campaign against the two countries has a dual purpose: to keep together the anti-Iraq coalition at the United Nations and to throttle Iran's economy as it tries to rebuild its military capability.But it also highlights the fact that 16 years after Iran's revolution and more than four years after Iraq's humiliating defeat in the Persian Gulf War, the United States appears to be incapable of controlling or moderating what it considers the unacceptable behavior of both governments.

In pursuing its strategy, this administration has cast the two countries as regional threats of equal importance.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a secular, totalitarian Arab leader who came to power by force, spent tens of billions of dollars on his military machine and continues to rule by terror, while Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani is an Islamic clergyman who was popularly elected, who has invested much less money in his weapons program and whose government runs largely on anarchy.

But in the eyes of the administration, they are simply "those two rogue states," as Secretary of State Warren Christopher called them in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday.

"There's absolutely no room for complacency about Iran's efforts," Christopher said referring to Tehran's weapons programs. "Just remember Iraq. Five years ago, too many were willing to give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt. We must not make the same mistake with Iran."

In a joint news conference with British Prime Minister John Major, after a meeting at the White House, Clinton expressed his determination to maintain strict global economic sanctions against Iraq until its government is in complete compliance with U.N. resolutions that require it to abandon offensive weapons programs and allow permanent intrusive inspections of military installations.

But Clinton also took pains not to overstate his case, saying he did not have evidence that Iraq had the ability to rebuild its nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs. "I didn't say they had the apparent ability," he told reporters in reference to their rebuilding those programs. "I said they could be regaining it."

Adding to the confusion, Christopher in his speech deviated from his prepared remarks to assert that Iraq is now trying to develop offensive biological weapons.

"We now have strong evidence that Iraq is conducting a large program to develop biological weapons for offensive purposes, and yet today, confronted with that evidence, the Iraqi officials just continue to dissemble and to lie," Christopher said.

In remarks prepared for delivery, Christopher said Iraq "was conducting" such a program, implying that it is no longer doing so. A senior State Department official explained that Christopher had made an inadvertent mistake.