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U.S.: Senate To Debate Iraq Issue

Washington, 13 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The leader of the U.S.Senate says he expects senators to begin debating soon whether to approve a resolution to support President George W. Bush on possible military action against Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle said yesterday he did not think "the case for a preemptive strike has been made yet." But the South Dakota Democrat noted that Bush continues to make his argument that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein represents a danger to America and its allies.

Bush said in a speech before the UN General Assembly on 12 September that if Iraq continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions over its weapons of mass destruction programs, then action against Baghdad "would be unavoidable." The president did not say what the action might be, but the Bush administration has repeatedly suggested a possible use of military force to oust Saddam.

Daschle said he believes the Senate would start debating the issue before an expected adjournment prior to congressional elections in November, possibly early next month. However, Daschle said it is still unclear whether a formal vote would be taken by then.

Asked to predict the outcome of the vote, Daschle said: "I don't think anyone's committed to a course of action, legislatively or militarily at this point."

Daschle said lawmakers needed to know how much support Bush had from other countries, the risks and costs of military action and its impact on the war on terrorism, and what plans there were for building a post-Saddam government.

But Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, the leader of Senate's Republicans, expressed no reservations about Bush's course of action, urging lawmakers to vote as soon as possible to show full support for the president. Lott, a close political ally of Bush, said of the president's UN speech:

"I thought the president was clear, forceful. It was obvious that he is committed to dealing with this very serious threat. And now I think it's vital for the Congress to show the world that we back this president and will give the authority he needs to protect the American people and the world community. We must vote to show support for the president right now."

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2000, said he thought military action may take place before Congress comes back in January after its fall break. McCain said it would be important that Congress express its will before a military buildup begins.

"The president, I believe, deserves a vote on the part of the Congress of the United States before we go out of session."

A Senate Republican who has outspokenly opposed the Bush administration's recent threats of taking unilateral action against Iraq, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said Bush has chosen the correct course of action. With Bush's speech, he said, it is now up to the UN to respond to the challenge he laid before it.