Congress Mulls Action on Iraq, Arafat, Syria

The Senate voted Thursday to bar Iraqi oil imports, while lawmakers separately proposed sanctions against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and actions to punish Syria.

The Senate, by an 88-10 vote, put into a broader energy bill a provision that would prohibit Iraqi oil from being imported into the United States until Iraq agrees to U.N. inspectors, stops giving financial help to survivors of suicide bombers and halts oil smuggling to avoid U.N. sanctions.

If the measure remains part of a final energy package, President Bush could resume such imports only if he deems them important to national interests. The White House has not commented on the measure by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he had some concern the measure might put President Bush "in an awkward position" if he wants to resume Iraqi imports.

House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt also cautioned against congressional attempts to shape U.S. Middle East policy, saying that Congress should be cooperating with the Bush administration.

Bingaman noted that sanctions against Iraq would not affect U.S. imports because Iraqi oil would be replaced by other world oil market sources. Iraqi oil accounts for 8.6 percent, or about 780,000 barrels a day, of U.S. oil imports.

"This is a matter of principle for the United States," said Murkowski. "Saddam Hussein is fostering terrorism."

Separately, Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would deny visas for Arafat and other senior Palestine Liberation Organization officials to travel to the United States. The proposal also would downgrade the PLO's office in Washington, seize PLO assets in the United States and restrict travel of the senior PLO official at the United Nations.

"Unfortunately, Arafat has incited the violence and helped financially support the terrorists," Feinstein said.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., said they were drafting a bill that would give the president new tools to sanction Syria if that neighbor of Israel does not withdraw from Lebanon and stop supporting terrorism, developing weapons of mass destruction and violating U.N. oil sanctions against Iraq.

Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House's No. 3 Republican, and Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, introduced a resolution expressing solidarity with Israel as "it takes necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian areas." It also condemns Arafat for what it says is his support for terror and expresses concern that his actions "are not those of a viable partner for peace."

Also, Reps. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Jim Leach, R-Iowa, said they were circulating a letter to House members recommending that former presidents Bush, Carter and Clinton lead a peace mission to the Middle East. "These are extraordinary times that demand swift and creative action," Capps said.

Gephardt, D-Mo., was asked at a news conference if he supported legislation to cut off payments to the Palestinian Authority. "I don't think that we ought to be going forward right now with various kinds of actions or resolutions," Gephardt said. "We need to cooperate with the administration."

President Bush signed a routine memorandum this week to allow Arafat's PLO to extend for six months its official presence in Washington. In signing it, however, Bush included new conditions linking further permission to whether Arafat acts to implement his public commitments against terror and enforces a cease-fire as Bush demanded April 4.

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he hadn't yet seen the McConnell-Feinstein proposal on sanctioning Arafat but questioned whether, at this time, "a resolution by the Senate condemning anybody" would be constructive.