WASHINGTON—Fearing that President Bush may be preparing to launch a military strike against Iran, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation that would require the White House to seek congressional approval before any such action.
Freshman Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former Republican Navy secretary and decorated Vietnam veteran who opposes the Iraq war, is leading the effort. Webb said Thursday that he's still working on the details, but he intends to introduce his measure next week as an amendment to the $93.4 billion war spending bill.
Democrats aren't satisfied with assurances from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace that there are no plans to attack Iran.
Despite their assurances, Bush has deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups off of Iran's coast. He also frequently denounces Iran's alleged supply of weapons to Shiite fighters in Iraq, and he has issued orders to U.S. troops there to hunt those Iranians who are making mischief.
In addition, there are persistent reports quoting people close to the administration saying that an attack on Iran is under consideration, both to inhibit Iran's nuclear program and to try to undermine its leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he supports Webb's concept.
"There are many out there much smarter than I am who believe the administration is ramping up to have the same thing happen in Iran that's happened in Iraq," Reid said.
At the same time, the administration announced this week that it will attend a regional conference on Iraq that will include representatives from Iran and Syria, reversing its previous refusal to talk to either regime.
Many Democrats are skeptical that the Bush administration is committed to solving its problems with Iran diplomatically. They see similarities to the buildup to the Iraq war and want to leave no doubt that the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq doesn't extend to Iran.
Webb said that under his proposal, the U.S. military "would still be able to repel an immediate attack if it began on Iranian soil or (undertake) hot pursuit if there were Iranian activity where they were to cross the border. I want to be very reasonable about this."
"What we would be going after would be any notion of beginning unilateral military action inside Iran without provocation and without the consent of the Congress. I'm not saying, `Don't do it,'" Webb said. "I'm saying if they want to begin that sort of new military activity, they should come to the Congress and discuss it."
Republicans are expected to fight Webb's effort. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who last month helped his party block debate on a nonbinding resolution opposing a troop buildup in Iraq, said an Iran amendment is a political stunt.
"It sounds to me like somebody's trying to make an issue for the sake of getting some press," he said.
Webb also must convince at least one skeptical Democrat, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan.
Levin said he believes the law already requires Bush to seek congressional approval if he decides to attack Iran. He suggested that the amendment could backfire on Democrats if Republicans block it or the president vetoes it, and he said that Bush might then argue anew that he doesn't need congressional approval to attack.
The urgency is heightened as anti-war Democrats quarrel among themselves over whether to rescind the 2002 Iraq war authorization, renew it with restrictions or leave it untouched.
"We don't trust the president," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. "I want to support something that forces the president to come to us before he goes into Iran."
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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