MOSCOW - Top Pentagon adviser Richard Perle said here Tuesday that US troops could not leave Iraq while a band of what he said were some 30,000 armed supporters of Saddam Hussein's fallen regime remained active.
He added that Washington has a generally positive view of President Vladimir Putin - who opposed the Iraq war - but would in the future judge the Russian leader on his actions rather than his public pronouncements.
"There were of course many reasons for starting the war in Iraq," Perle told reporters when asked about US and British troops' failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq more than three months after the campaign began.
"We are clearly starting to see that up to 300,000 people were killed and buried" by Saddam's regime, he said.
Perle added that "we are absolutely certain" that weapons of mass destruction are hidden in Iraq - Washington's motive for launching the offensive against Baghdad - but that it may take dozens of years to find them.
"We don't know where to look for them and we never did know where to look for them," he admitted.
Asked by a reporter when he thought the evidence of those weapons may be found, Perle joked: "I hope this will take less than 200 years."
Perle is recognized as one of the main architects of Washington's campaign to launch the offensive in Iraq although he has since played down his role in hatching the war plan.
The chief US hawk gave no time frame for when US troops may leave Iraq, saying they would do so only once Washington felt the country was safe and that its citizens could start forging a democracy without Western help.
"It will not be easy to bring democracy to Iraq after 30 years of tyranny," he said.
He further estimated there were still some 30,000 hardcore Saddam supporters who were undermining US efforts to restore peace and order in the nation.
"It would be irresponsible to leave while 30,000 of the most brutal supporters of Saddam are sabotaging the country," he said.
He did not state specifically how the US troops intended to put them out of commission.
Turning briefly to Russia-US relations, Perle said Washington in general supported Putin's policy but also had some concerns - in particular that most independent Russian media had been shut down under his rule.
Perle toned down those remarks by saying that problems in Russia-US relations "are very small especially if one considers the problems we had in the Cold War."
Perle was in Moscow to present a lecture at a prestigious Russian foreign relations institute.