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Congress Gets Resolution for Action on Iraq

Capitol: Bush seeks sweeping powers, including use of force, to disarm Baghdad. Hussein, in a statement to the U.N., accuses the U.S. of ulterior motives.

September 20, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Bush asked Congress on Thursday to authorize sweeping powers--including the use of force, if needed--to disarm Iraq and possibly oust the government in Baghdad. He also bluntly warned the United Nations that Washington will act if the world body fails to ensure that Iraq surrenders any weapons of mass destruction.

The White House sent its draft resolution to Congress as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a statement read at the U.N., said his country no longer has any such weapons. Hussein charged that the United States has other motives in pushing its case against Iraq.

"The U.S. administration wants to destroy Iraq in order to control Middle East oil--and consequently control the politics as well as the oil and economic policies of the whole world," Hussein said in the statement read by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the General Assembly.

The Bush administration, faced with domestic questions and international dissent about how far to go in confronting Iraq, dismissed Hussein's statements as nonsense. Bush described it as "the same old song and dance" the world has heard since the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991.

The White House's proposed resolution cited a litany of threats posed by Iraq--from its past use of chemical weapons and internal repression to the alleged presence of Al Qaeda members within its borders--to justify the request for Bush to have "all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force," to respond.

"If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office after talks with his foreign policy team. The resolution, he added, is "a chance for Congress to say, 'We support the administration's ability to keep the peace.' That's what this is all about."

Lawmakers predicted that a form of the resolution would pass, though some may push for significant wording changes. Several Democrats expressed concern that the White House version was too broad.

In another signal of his determination to plow ahead, the president issued a firm warning to the U.N. about American intentions to confront Iraq.

"The U.N. Security Council must work with the United States and Britain and other concerned parties to send a clear message that we expect [Hussein] to disarm," he said. "And if the United Nations Security Council won't deal with the problem, the United States and some of our friends will."

The resolution and the president's combative words represented a White House effort to recapture the initiative in its face-off with Iraq. Bush appeared to have seized control of the debate with a speech to the U.N. last week, as he called for the world to force Iraq to disarm and live up to other international demands. But the drive for a tough U.N. stance toward Iraq met new resistance when Hussein agreed Monday to allow weapons inspectors to return to his country for the first time in four years.

At a White House briefing, a senior administration official who requested anonymity said the resolution was drafted to provide Bush with the broadest possible authority. But she pledged that the president would continue to consult with Congress on the Iraq issue even after a resolution passes.

The resolution is expected to be voted on within a few weeks, before Congress adjourns ahead of November elections.

"It will pass overwhelmingly," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He predicted that the reservations expressed by some Democrats would vanish by the time of a vote.

Rep. Norman D. Dicks of Washington state, a senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Committee, joined in quickly backing the resolution. "I think we have no choice but to have the strongest support possible for the president's efforts here," he said after a White House breakfast Thursday.

But other key Democrats were either cautious or openly critical, with many saying the resolution should be rewritten to narrow its focus.

The draft authorizes the president to use the military to enforce U.N. resolutions, defend U.S. national security interests and "restore international peace and security in the region."

"What exactly does that mean? If some Security Council resolutions are not met, and let's say [the Iraqis] don't return Kuwaiti prisoners, do we go to war?" asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). "I don't believe this resolution is going to fly through the Senate."

Several lawmakers expressed concern that the reference to stabilizing the region would give Bush license to use force outside Iraq.

"I am for a generous grant of authority to the president in dealing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein," said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). "If you are going beyond Iraq, then I think we need to have a little more scrutiny."

A small band of liberal Democrats said they would oppose the resolution. Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) called the draft "a nonstarter" and "an affront to the Constitution" because it would authorize such open-ended powers to the president.

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