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U.S. push to disarm Iraq enters crucial stretch

WASHINGTON _The Bush administration's push to disarm Saddam Hussein enters a crucial stretch this week that will test the president's negotiating skills with Congress and the United Nations.

Congress, pushed by Democrats and some Republicans, will attempt to rewrite a resolution the president sent to it last week. The president's version would give him broad authority to wage war against Iraq, with or without international support. Many members of Congress think that authority goes too far and that the United States should not act alone.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to get a proposal from the United States and Britain by mid-week that threatens the use of force against Iraq if Saddam obstructs weapons inspections or fails to destroy any weapons of mass destruction that inspectors find.

Russia, France and China have voiced doubts endorsing military action. The three countries, along with the United States and Britain, have veto power over council decisions.

The congressional and U.N. resolutions are separate, but inextricably linked.

The administration wants the congressional resolution to show the international community the U.S. government's bipartisan resolve to get rid of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But most lawmakers prefer that the United Nations authorize any use of force, and are keeping a close eye on what the Security Council does over the next several days.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted Sunday that the outcome of the congressional resolution "will be impacted upon by what is going on at the United Nations simultaneously."

"There is a degree of confidence that increases in direct proportion to the notion that we are not going to be going alone with this," he said on CNN.

Some scholars and lawmakers maintain that Congress is required by law to authorize military force only if the Security Council backs it. The United Nations Charter imposes limitations on declarations of war. The U.S. Senate approved the Charter after World War II as a legally binding treaty.

"The charter is . . . a force of law in this country," Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who has warned against unilateral action in Iraq, said Sunday on ABC. "Working through the United Nations is a very critical part of this."

The White House on Thursday proposed a congressional resolution that would permit

the president "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to . . . defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."

Many lawmakers want to make the use of force contingent upon authorization from the U.N. Security Council. The administration is not likely to support such a change, and many Republicans believe Bush will prevail. More likely to change is the resolution's broad language on restoring "peace and security in the region." Lawmakers from both parties say the phrase could be interpreted to authorize military action anywhere in the Middle East.

Several lawmakers on Sunday also warned that a unilateral attack by the United States could spark a wider Arab-Israeli war, particularly if Iraq bombs Israel as it did during the Gulf War. Israel has signaled that, unlike 1991, it will retaliate if attacked.

"If the Israelis go in, it could just be a widespread war in the Middle East and also we'd be perceived to be fighting side by side with the Israelis against all Arab interests and the war could spread," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, added on CNN: "The Israelis ought to stay out of it because of the political consequences in the region if they get in."

Bush wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution that would not only include the threat of a military strike against Saddam but also would impose tougher inspection standards on Iraq. For instance, the United States doesn't want Iraq officials to get advance notice of inspections, as currently required for some Iraqi installations. It also wants specific deadlines for inspections and for the destruction of any weapons of mass destruction found.

"We ought to focus on getting the United Nations to issue an ultimatum for inspection, to put down deadlines, to have these be unlimited, unrestricted inspections and to have the U.N. authorize member states to use force to enforce that resolution," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Fox News.

The Iraqi government on Saturday defied the United States, saying it would reject any weapons inspections that are tougher and more intrusive than what the United Nations has already decreed.

"Iraq announces that it will not cooperate with a new resolution which is different from what has been agreed upon with the (U.N.) secretary-general," the statement said.

Iraq in the past has defied the United Nations repeatedly and has obstructed the work of weapons inspectors.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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