WASHINGTON — Responding to President Clinton's call for a bipartisan initiative to combat terrorism, administration and congressional officials announced Wednesday night that they had reached agreement on the outlines of legislation that would give police broader wiretapping authority, tighten airport security and authorize other new tools to fight terrorism.
The details of the legislation have yet to be worked out, but White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta and key Republicans were optimistic that an agreement could be nailed down and passed before Congress begins a monthlong recess at week's end.
"I'm very confident we're going to be able to put a bill together," Panetta told reporters after meeting with a bipartisan House-Senate task force on the subject.
"Both sides had to swallow hard," said Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the task force. But he added, "I feel very positive."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the measure could come to a vote in the Senate today or Friday.
Negotiations between congressional and administration officials began Tuesday, one day after Clinton made a plea for new tools to combat terrorism in the wake of the recent crash of TWA Flight 800 and the pipe-bomb explosion at the Atlanta Olympics.
Many Republicans initially resisted Clinton's demand that they reconsider anti-terrorism proposals, including broader wiretapping authority, that had been dropped by Congress from a counter-terrorism bill signed by the president earlier this year. But many Republicans also were reluctant to seem to be obstructing efforts to crack down on terrorism.
After Wednesday night's meeting with Panetta and other administration officials, Craig said congressional negotiators had agreed to Clinton's controversial proposal to allow "roving" wiretaps. The move would let law enforcement agents monitor all communications devices used by a suspected terrorist, such as cellular phones and pagers. Now, police can be given authority to monitor only a specific phone number. "Roving" wiretaps have been vigorously opposed by conservative Republicans and civil libertarians.
Craig said, however, that expanded authority would be accompanied by "some privacy language that will protect innocent people."
The administration has backed away from its proposals to require manufacturers of ammunition to include chemicals, known as "taggants" designed to make it easier to trace the origins of bombs--a proposal vigorously opposed by many Republicans and the National Rifle Assn.
Other measures likely to be in the legislation would:
* Allow suspected terrorists to be prosecuted under federal racketeering laws.
* Allow "emergency" wiretaps of suspected terrorists, which would allow authorities to tap suspects for short periods without a court order--as they now can in cases involving national security and organized crime.
* Take unspecified measures to tighten security at the nation's airports.
* Make it easier to identify the phone numbers called by suspected terrorists.
* Make it a capital offense to commit murder by bombing at the Olympic Games.
* Establish a blue-ribbon commission to review U.S. anti-terrorism policy.