WASHINGTON – President Bush asked Congress Thursday for authority to “use all means,” including military force if necessary, to disarm and overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if he does not quickly meet United Nations demands that he abandon all weapons of mass destruction.
At the U.N., Iraqi President Saddam Hussein delivered a defiant written message taunting the United States while claiming that Iraq has no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons _ and saying he welcomed inspections to prove it.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Saddam's latest statement itself represented a backing away from his earlier promise to grant weapons inspectors unfettered access.
The proposal Bush sent to Capitol Hill would give him broad war-making authority. “If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
The president worked to build support for a vote by Congress before lawmakers go home to campaign for the Nov. 5 elections, and legislative leaders said the vote could come in two weeks. Bush's proposed resolution says Iraq has repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions and international law by possessing chemical and biological weapons, seeking nuclear weapons, repressing the Iraqi people and consorting with terrorists.
Although Democratic leaders predicted quick approval of a resolution on Iraq, they said they want to make changes. “I don't see any need for us to rush pell-mell,” said Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del.
“We have some issues we want to raise with the administration about the wording,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday night after meeting with other Senate Democrats. “We want to focus on Iraq, not Iran or other countries in the region that might pose a threat.”
Some Senate Democrats were more critical. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said “it would be an affront to the Constitution to give the president this kind of power.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he would like the resolution to specify that Bush needs a U.N. resolution backing the use of force. “Going alone has some very significant risks,” Levin said.
“One veto in the U.N. Security Council shouldn't obstruct us doing what we have to do,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
GOP leaders praised Bush's proposal. “I'm perfectly happy with the language,” said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. He said he expected a Senate vote the first week in October.
As drafted, Bush's resolution would authorize him to use force – unilaterally if he deemed necessary – without waiting for the U.N. to act.
It reads: “The president is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.”
Bush spoke to reporters after meeting with Powell on his difficult diplomatic effort to draft a U.N. resolution against Iraq. The administration has to overcome strong reservations by Russia and France, which have veto power as permanent council members.
Britain is expected to side with the United States. The fifth permanent member, China, has voiced opposition to unilateral U.S. military action but has not threatened to veto measures calling for collective action.
“The United Nations Security Council must work with the United States and other concerned parties to send a clear message that we expect Saddam to disarm,” Bush said.
“And if the United Nations Security Council won't deal with the problem, the United States and some of our friends will,” he declared.
The gap between Russian and American viewpoints was underlined in comments by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov at the Pentagon, where he met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Ivanov said he believed U.N. weapons inspectors will settle the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
“Being experienced in that sort of business _ both Americans and Russians _ I think we can easily establish (whether) there exist or not weapons of mass destruction technology,” Ivanov said.
Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector for the United Nations, told the Security Council Thursday that if all goes well at talks scheduled
with the Iraqis in Vienna for Sept. 30, he could have an advance team on the ground by Oct. 15 and that some early inspections could be conducted soon afterward.
Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that inspections are not reliable because Iraq has a long history of deceiving inspectors _ and because it
has had nearly four years to figure out how to hide its weapons.
Bush was to meet at the White House on Friday with both the Russian defense minister and its foreign minister, Igor Ivanov.
Meantime, Saddam told the United Nations that Iraq is free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
“Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places and scientific installations they would wish to see,” Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the world body, quoting the Iraqi president.
Powell, appearing before the House International Relations Committee, scoffed at Saddam's message and noted that it appeared to limit where inspectors might go. Powell was referring to Saddam's demands that the inspectors respect Iraq's “rights, sovereignty and security” _ which the Bush administration says is Iraqi code for keeping inspectors out of what Iraq calls “presidential” sites.
“He is already backing away, he is stepping away from the `without conditions' statement they made on Monday,” Powell said. “He's not
deceiving anybody. It's a ploy we have seen before.”
Many U.N. members, Powell said, want to take Iraq at its word and send inspectors back without any new resolution or new authority.
“This is recipe for failure,” he said.