Key U.S. senators are demanding that Secretary of State Colin Powell provide them with specific intelligence evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The lawmakers say the American people have the right to see this evidence before it is presented to the United Nations.
Washington, 31 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Some members of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee say they want Secretary of State Colin Powell to brief them before he goes to New York next week to share newly declassified intelligence about Iraq with the United Nations Security Council.
The matter came up yesterday during a hearing at which Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, sought to bolster President George W. Bush's case for a possible war against Iraq.
One senator, Democrat Christopher Dodd, said he, his fellow members of Congress, and the people of his state of Connecticut so far have had to rely on speeches and other statements by Bush and members of the administration that urge support but offer no details of why the United States might have to go to war.
Dodd said he wants Powell to share his intelligence with the Foreign Relations Committee before presenting it at the United Nations on 5 February. "My people [constituents] want to know why we're going to do this [go to war], other than [relying on the] sort of speeches given [so far] that are sort of pep-rally stuff. I want to know specifically and factually what we know, and I think my constituents do [too], and I know my colleagues do. And before you go and tell the whole world about it [at the UN], I think we have a right to know what's going on here [in Washington]," Dodd said.
The chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, said he had spoken with legislative leaders about having Powell brief Congress ahead of his UN visit. But he could not say whether an appearance had yet been arranged.
Last autumn, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted by generous margins to authorize Bush to take any action he deems appropriate, including military action, to force Iraq to dismantle its suspected nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs in accordance with UN resolutions.
Now, however, some members of Congress hope to persuade Bush to let UN weapons inspectors have more time to find evidence of these suspected programs in Iraq. During yesterday's hearing, Negroponte reminded the committee that the chief inspector, Hans Blix, said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had not been cooperative with his teams.
One committee member, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, expressed doubt that less than full cooperation warranted a quick decision on war. And Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the vice chairman of the committee, asked Armitage if Bush was ready to set a deadline for Hussein to begin cooperating with the inspectors. Armitage responded: "As the president said, senator, no decision has been made. However, he has instructed us to engage for the next few weeks in intensive diplomacy to try to resolve this peacefully. So I think the best time frame I can give you is -- this is a matter of weeks and not months, sir."
Both Armitage and Negroponte reiterated Bush's position that he is prepared to go to war without the backing of the United Nations. But both men stressed that the president would prefer to lead a large coalition of UN members against Iraq if war becomes necessary.
The two witnesses and several members of the committee agreed that it is important, if not essential, for the United States to have many allies if it decides to go to war. Biden, who has at times been highly critical of Bush's handling of the Iraq issue, said U.S. forces could easily defeat Hussein without help, but he said there is more to success than merely routing an enemy army and ousting their leader. "Having others with us increases our chance of success. And by success I mean not just taking down Saddam. That is not the measure of success. The measure of success is if we take him down if need be, we gather up and destroy the weapons of mass destruction, and we are assured that there is a government in place that is not likely to reconstitute the menace and threat. That is a gigantic undertaking," Biden said.
Biden also said that it is important to persuade the world that the United States is not taking this stand against Iraq for the sake of oil or simply to impose its will on a country led by a man it abhors.
In fact, according to Biden, the United States and its current allies are not mobilizing their forces for a possible preemptive strike against a country that is perceived as a threat but enforcing an agreement that Hussein signed at the end of the Gulf War in order to maintain control over Iraq. "This is an enforcement of a binding international legal commitment that a man made to save his skin and stay in power," Biden said.
Armitage said what concerns the Bush administration most is that during the 1990s, the UN inspectors established that Hussein had large amounts of chemical and biological weapons. Now, he said, Hussein says he no longer has them, but has failed to account for how they were disposed of.
The deputy secretary of state used the anthrax threat against Congress and other areas of Washington a month after the attacks of 11 September 2001 to illustrate what he called the importance of persuading Hussein to cooperate with the inspectors. "In October of 2001, less than a teaspoon of anthrax in an envelope brought chaos to this body [Congress]. Several hundred of your employees had to undergo emergency medical treatment, the building next door was closed, and ultimately two members of the Postal Service died, and the building in which they worked has yet to reopen. Saddam Hussein, according to UNSCOM, the special commission [on weapons inspections], has 25,000 liters of anthrax. That's over 5 million teaspoons of anthrax. And he has yet to account for a single grain," Armitage said.
Armitage said the world must face the possibility that Hussein might use deadly chemical or biological weapons -- as he has done in the past -- or that he might share them with a terrorist group without being detected. This, he said, is why Washington is maintaining such heavy pressure on Iraq.