Published September 17, 2002
WASHINGTON – The debate in Congress over whether to support military action in Iraq won't be derailed by Saddam Hussein's decision to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to return, with a vote on an Iraq resolution coming "well before the election," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday.
Daschle and other congressional leaders planned to meet with President Bush at the White House Wednesday morning to discuss what the Iraq resolution should say.
"We've got to put pressure upon the Iraqis not only to open their borders, but to destroy their weapons," said Daschle, D-S.D.
Most Senate Democrats would support a resolution allowing Bush to use military force to oust Saddam with U.N. backing, said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. But Durbin said he and others would like to see what U.N. inspectors find and how they are treated before approving military action.
"If they [inspections] fail, we can consider a lot of options," Durbin said.
Bush has said he wants Congress to pass an Iraq resolution in the next few weeks but has not made any specific proposals.
"I think that there will be a vote well before the election, and I think it's important that we work together to achieve it," Daschle said. "The real question is, what will the resolution say? And, in part, that will be a function of the administration's own strategy and goals."
Congress plans to focus heavily on Iraq this week, with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testifying before a House panel Wednesday and Secretary of State Colin Powell scheduled for House testimony Thursday.
A Republican skeptic of military action said Saddam's turnabout "invites us to wait and see."
"I think Ronald Reagan said 'trust but verify' -- this is a great opportunity to practice that option," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
Republican lawmakers said they, like Bush, viewed Saddam's acquiescence to U.N. inspections as a delaying tactic. Iraq agreed to the weapons inspections after the 1991 Gulf War but banned the inspectors in 1998 amid a dispute over what sites they could visit.
"I think we should go ahead and prepare for the debate in the U.N. and also in Congress, perhaps simultaneously," said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We shouldn't delay anything because he wants a delay."