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Convene Congress for Vote on Gulf, Dole Urges Bush : Mideast crisis: Sen. Lugar says the special session should back the President's policy. Democrats order Senate hearings on U.S. goals and potential for casualties.

November 14, 1990|WILLIAM J. EATON and MICHAEL ROSS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) asked President Bush on Tuesday to call Congress back into session to vote on his policies in the Persian Gulf.

"I think it ought to be put up to the Congress--put up or shut up," Dole said. "And if they say no, well, then they say no. And then the President has to decide whether to go it alone."

Lugar, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that Bush should "call back the Congress and get an affirmative vote to authorize our staying power over there so that the world knows that we're going to back up whatever the President is doing."

Asked if he were advocating a declaration of war without using the words, Lugar replied: "That is correct."

Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts also urged a special session, but for a decidedly different purpose--to prevent Bush's "headlong course toward war."

White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater delivered an official rejection of the idea, saying: "There is no war."

However, Dole said Bush indicated later that he might change his mind. "I think we will be (called back). I don't know when, but in my view it's going to be before the first of the year."

Democratic leaders in Congress demanded that Bush justify a massive troop buildup and ordered Senate hearings into U.S. goals and potential for casualties in the event of war. However, they opposed reconvening Congress unless the President is ready to ask the lawmakers to authorize a military attack in the gulf crisis.

Both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees of the Senate said that they plan public, televised hearings on gulf policy within the next several weeks to educate both Congress and the American people on the war-or-peace issues.

Meanwhile, lawmakers said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told House members Tuesday that no final decision has been made on whether to begin rotating American troops assigned to the Persian Gulf--a statement they interpreted as a turnabout.

Pentagon officials, however, later insisted that there are no plans to begin troop rotations and that the additional military personnel being dispatched to the area were not intended as replacements for the troops already there.

The White House, apparently stunned by the critical reaction on Capitol Hill, arranged for Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Cheney to brief senators and House members today on U.S. policy.

Despite the Administration's initial dismissal of the call for a special session, Dole said Bush indicated at a White House meeting that he would consider calling lawmakers back into session in December shortly after his return on Nov. 28 from travel to Saudi Arabia, Europe and Mexico.

Even if Baker and Cheney succeed in mollifying members of Congress, the confusion and discord evident over the last few days is a major blow to the unified front that Bush had assembled for his policy.

Tuesday's fast-breaking developments came as more members of Congress expressed doubts about U.S. policy in the gulf--doubts that have steadily mounted since Bush's decision last Thursday to nearly double U.S. forces in the region.

"I am very concerned that the President seems to be moving toward initiating wide-scale military action against Iraq," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). "Precipitous American use of large-scale force could also bring about a broader conflagration in the Middle East with unknown results."

Bush's plan for a big troop buildup and future moves in the area were discussed by senators of both major parties at separate post-election meetings to prepare for the new Congress that will meet on Jan. 3.

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) said afterward that Democrats expect Bush to seek authorization from Congress before using military force against Iraq. In the meantime, he added, there would be no use in discussing hypothetical situations or considering whether to give advance approval to unknown military moves.

"If the President is proposing only that we give him a blank check, I expect that he'd run into opposition," said Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lugar implied that Bush has not explained adequately the need for additional American forces in the gulf. "I think the President must outline very clearly what we're doing over there and why it's imperative for us to do it," he said.

He said that swift action is vital because an international coalition supporting a trade embargo against Iraq is beginning to unravel, among other reasons. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, however, denied that the coalition is losing strength.

At the White House, Fitzwater gave the reply to Dole's and Lugar's calls for a special session by saying: "Our position is that this is not necessary at this point. There is no war. We are trying to avoid one."

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