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Give Inspectors Time to Act, Kennedy Urges

Iraq: Democratic senator sees no 'imminent threat.' Bush, moving to build public support, says he's 'willing to give peace a chance.'

September 28, 2002|RICHARD SIMON and ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Democratic critics of President Bush's Iraq policy stepped up their campaign Friday for more diplomacy before military action is launched, while the administration battled to build public support for a potential confrontation with the Baghdad regime.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), in presenting a comprehensive case against armed intervention, called for the United States to give U.N. inspectors a chance to find and disable Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"The administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, preemptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary," he said in a speech to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Kennedy's speech came as three House Democrats--including one from California--spent the day in Baghdad to seek Iraq's cooperation with inspections.

The heightened activity by the Democrats underscored the increasing difficulty facing the White House in its push for a congressional resolution that would authorize force against Iraq. The resolution ultimately is expected to pass, but Democrats are becoming more assertive in raising concerns about its wording.

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took to the road to dispel doubts about the worthiness of waging war on Iraq.

"I'm willing to give peace a chance to work," Bush said at a Republican fund-raiser in Denver. "I want the United Nations to work." But he said he wanted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to "do what he said he would do," a reference to Hussein's pledge in 1991 to allow weapon inspectors open access.

"But for the sake of our future, now's the time.... We must make sure this madman never has the capacity to hurt us with a nuclear weapon or to use the stockpiles of anthrax that we know he has or ... the biological weapons which he possesses."

Later in the day, during a fund-raiser in Phoenix, Bush referred to Hussein as "a man who loves to link up with Al Qaeda."

As it pushes for congressional backing for a tough stance toward Iraq, the White House also wants the U.N. to approve a resolution that would allow the use of "all necessary means" to deal with Hussein's regime if it balks at U.N. demands that it eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

At the United Nations on Friday, diplomats said the United States and Britain are demanding that Hussein be given a seven-day deadline after passage of a tough new Security Council resolution to accept its terms for immediate disarmament or face severe consequences. The conditions in the draft resolution include a call for full and unfettered access of U.N. weapon inspectors to Hussein's palaces and other sensitive sites that previously have been inaccessible.

The proposed resolution also requires Hussein to hand over a list of all materials that can be used for weapons of mass destruction within 30 days of the resolution's passage, and calls for "all necessary means" to be used against Iraq if it continues to defy the U.N.

A Security Council diplomat described the resolution as "very tough and very detailed."

The draft resolution is proving a hard sell with other key nations--such as Russia, France and China--and growing dissent on the home front can only complicate the administration's international lobbying efforts.

In Atlanta, Rumsfeld drove home the message that the administration will continue its push against Iraq. "No thinking person wakes up in the morning wanting to go to war," he told business leaders. "But the American people must weigh the risk of not acting."

Friday's developments capped a week when what had been a muted discussion on Iraq erupted into a louder debate, with more Democrats complaining that the administration is not allowing enough options to war.

Former Vice President Al Gore, Bush's 2000 election opponent, assailed the White House's position in a speech Monday in San Francisco. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) angrily accused Bush of trying to politicize the debate on Iraq.

"Democratic efforts are now aimed at modifying the wording" of the congressional resolution, said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "They want Democratic fingerprints on it in the event the military campaign, when it comes and is successful, they can claim partial credit. If it runs into trouble, they will be able to say they sounded the cautionary note."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush was optimistic the nation's "resolve to deal firmly with Saddam Hussein will soon be echoed in the Congress."

Congressional leaders and White House officials reported progress on changes in the wording of a war resolution that would draw strong bipartisan support.

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