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U.S.: Bush Says White House, Congress Near Accord On Iraq

The U.S. Congress is set to give President George W. Bush a free hand to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The resolution is expected to authorize Bush to use all means necessary to disarm Iraq.

Washington, 27 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says he and Congress are nearing agreement on a resolution that would give U.S. legislators' approval of any action Bush chooses to deal with Iraq -- even a military strike.

Last week, the president sent to Congress his proposal for the resolution. Since then, the White House and leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives have been negotiating the exact language.

On Thursday, Bush said he and Congress are close to a resolution acceptable to both sides. Speaking at the White House, Bush said it is important that the leadership of America speak in unison about Iraq to show the rest of the world that the United States is committed to removing the threat posed by Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. "By passing this resolution [on Iraq], we'll send a clear message to the world and to the Iraqi regime. The demands of the UN Security Council must be followed. The Iraqi dictator must be disarmed. These requirements will be met or they will be enforced," Bush said.

The Bush administration wants the Security Council to pass its own resolution explicitly outlining the rights and the responsibilities of both the United Nations weapons inspectors and the government of Iraq once the inspectors return to that country. The U.S. government also wants the UN resolution to state the consequences if Iraq puts conditions on the inspectors' work or otherwise interferes with them, as it has in the past.

The UN withdrew the inspectors from Iraq in December 1998 in advance of U.S. and British bombing of suspected weapons sites. Hussein has since refused to let the inspectors back into Iraq.

On 12 September, Bush argued in a speech before the UN General Assembly that Iraq has repeatedly violated the terms of the cease-fire in the 1991 Gulf War. He said Hussein has illegally refused to readmit UN weapons inspectors and has continued to pursue nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, all in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Immediately after that address, many countries that had previously expressed reluctance to support any U.S.-led military action against Iraq suddenly expressed their support for it, if the action was taken specifically to enforce UN resolutions.

But Hussein abruptly said he was willing to readmit the inspectors unconditionally. Since then, several countries have said they would prefer to follow the progress of a renewed inspection regime before considering any resolution that would authorize the use of force against Hussein's government. Among them are France and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, which have veto power over any resolution.

As for the Congressional resolution supporting the U.S. president, Bush said Thursday that it is vital for the Senate and the House to pass the measure quickly because the longer the United States waits, the more dangerous Hussein becomes. "The dangers we face will only worsen from month to month and from year to year. To ignore these threats is to encourage them, and when they have fully materialized, it may be too late to protect ourselves and our friends and our allies," Bush said.

In recent weeks, Bush has contended that it is not sufficient merely to have Iraq readmit the weapons inspectors. He and his senior cabinet officials say Iraq must be forced to disarm. They say if the United Nations does not act to disarm Hussein, it will become "irrelevant," as Bush said in his UN address -- just as the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, became irrelevant for not disarming Nazi Germany in the 1930s before World War II.

Bush has not offered conclusive evidence that Iraq has a significant arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's chief ally against Hussein, said the Baghdad government could mount chemical or biological attacks within 45 minutes of an order that they be used.

Bush has argued repeatedly that such weapons make Iraq a grave threat to the Middle East, to the United States, and to the world. On Thursday, Bush referred to that potential threat in citing the urgency of acting against Iraq. "Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX nerve gas or, some day, a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally. We refuse to live in this future of fear," Bush said.

Bush's announcement that Congress was close to approving a resolution giving its support to Bush's policy on Iraq ended a brief dispute between the White House and Bush's political opponents.

As part of the war on terrorism, Bush has proposed creating a new cabinet agency for domestic security. The president, a member of the Republican Party, says that in order to make the department as efficient as possible, he wants to have complete control over hiring and firing its 170,000 employees. In other words, he does not want them to have trade-union protection, as most other government employees have.

Members of the opposition Democratic Party, which generally enjoys support from the country's labor movement, say the employees of the Homeland Security Department should not be denied the right to collective bargaining.

This issue has been a running dispute between the White House and Democrats in Congress for weeks. Bush says he wants the proposed department to begin operations on 1 January and therefore wants Congress to pass legislation to create it before it recesses for the year in mid-October. The measure has passed the House, which is controlled by Republicans, but is being held up in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

In a speech on Monday night, Bush expressed frustration that the legislation still has not passed the Senate. "The [Democrat-controlled] Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington [support from trade unions] and not interested in the security of the American people," Bush said.

The next day, Senator Tom Daschle (Democrat, South Dakota), the leader of the majority Democrats in the Senate, accused Bush of playing partisan politics with the proposed Homeland Security Department and questioning the dedication of Democrats.

On the Senate floor, Daschle made a speech in which he referred to Democrats in the Senate who had fought in two wars. He even cited by name Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who lost an arm while fighting in World War II. "Not interested in the security of the American people? You tell Senator Inouye he's not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous! Outrageous!" Daschle said.

Daschle demanded that Bush apologize. Bush's supporters countered that Daschle was taking the president's remarks out of context, that Bush was referring only to his differences with Democrats over the proposed cabinet department, not the overall war on terrorism or the security of the American people.

On Thursday, Bush stopped short of an apology, but he did address the dispute when he said: "The security of our country is the commitment of both political parties and the responsibility of both elected branches of government [the presidency and Congress]."

After Bush spoke, Daschle also addressed the dispute only indirectly. Indicating that cordial relations had been restored between Congress and the White House, the senator said he expects that the legislation creating a Homeland Security Department would pass before lawmakers are expected to go home in mid-October.