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Cheney, Tenet brief Hill leaders on Iraq

Lott: Information is 'interesting and troubling'

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott says an intelligence briefing on Iraq will give lawmakers
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott says an intelligence briefing on Iraq will give lawmakers "a lot more to think about."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With Democratic leaders expressing unease over the prospect of a military attack against Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet delivered a classified, intelligence briefing about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to a select group of congressional leaders Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, called the information passed along in the 90 minute briefing "interesting and troubling" and said it would give lawmakers -- many of them critical or skeptical of the administration's planning --

"a lot more to think about."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, who had called on the administration to release more information about the Iraqi threat, said Tenet and Cheney answered "many" of the questions he has had.

"What I'm going to do is talk to my colleagues a little bit. It was a very helpful briefing, and we were in a position to ask a lot of good questions," said Daschle, who told reporters he will have "more to say about it later."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, also attended the briefing, which came in the wake of comments from some lawmakers that the administration has failed to provide fresh evidence about the threat posed by Saddam, nor explained why a military strike might be needed at this time.

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On a fund-raising trip in Louisville, Kentucky, Bush said he welcomed the "dialogue on Iraq," but declared, "I'm not going to change my view."

That view, as expressed in a series of comments and speeches by Bush and other administration figures, is that there must be a "regime change" in Iraq and Saddam is a threat to peace. In a letter delivered Wednesday to congressional leaders, Bush said he would do "whatever is necessary" to deal with Saddam.

The White House accuses the Iraqi leader of amassing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Lott said some GOP senators were "already meeting" to discuss the wording of a possible resolution of support.

But House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, who attended a meeting Wednesday at the White House with other congressional leaders, said she was not convinced that a military strike was warranted.

"There is no question, of course, that Saddam Hussein is an evil person, does terrible things, is a threat in the region, and we'd like to see him removed from power," Pelosi, D-California, said. "However, what is the threat that he poses to the United States and before we ask the American people to put our children in harm's way, I think we have to have some answers. What is the threat? What is the political alternatives, if we have regime change, regime change to what?"

And former President Jimmy Carter weighed in, arguing against a U.S. attack on Iraq.

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Writing in The Washington Post, Carter argued that Iraq poses no current threat to the United States. He said Washington can't ignore its development of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, but "a unilateral war with Iraq is not the answer."

"In the face of intense monitoring and overwhelming American military superiority, any belligerent move by Hussein against a neighbor, even the smallest nuclear test (necessary before weapons construction), a tangible threat to use a weapon of mass destruction, or sharing this technology with terrorist organizations would be suicidal," Carter wrote. "But it is quite possible that such weapons would be used against Israel or our forces in response to an American attack."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle:
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle: "It was a very helpful briefing."  

Before the classified briefing, Daschle said he hopes Bush would get "the kind of support from the U.N. that his father did" before making any move against Iraq.

"If the international community supports it, if we can get the information we've been seeking, then I think we can move to a resolution," he said. "But short of that, I think it would be difficult for us to move until that information is provided and some indication of the level of international support is also evident."

Congressional hearings on Iraq are expected next week, and congressional leaders said a vote on a resolution could come as early as October.

Speaking in Kentucky, Bush said he welcomed the debate. "I want there to be an open discussion about the threats that face America."

The White House stepped up its public relations effort for a "regime change" in Iraq after lawmakers returned from an August recess, with many of them expressing doubts about the wisdom against launching a strike against Iraq.

In response, Bush summoned top lawmakers to the White House Wednesday and told them he would "seek approval" from Congress "at the appropriate time" on what to do about Saddam.

The president is also making his case on the international stage. He's invited British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Camp David for talks this Saturday. (Full story) He also plans discussions with other world leaders, including the presidents of France, Russia and China. And Bush will outline the case against Saddam, whom he called a "serious threat," in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly next week.

Daschle said Bush's speech to the United Nations next week would be a "major test" for whether the administration could rally support for any action against Iraq.

While Bush has stopped short of saying explicitly he wants to launch a military strike against Iraq, he made it clear Wednesday that he wanted the United States to act.

"Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States," Bush said.

In Wednesday's letter to congressional leaders, Bush said he would "seek congressional support for U.S. action to do whatever is necessary to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime." He said Congress can "play an important role" in building a consensus for action. (Text of letter)

Lawmakers said they want to know Bush's timetable for a military offensive, how many troops and how much money would be involved, the feasibility of pursuing such a strategy without support from a coalition of other nations, and whether the administration would accept a new round of weapons inspections in Iraq.

In another development:

  • Coalition aircraft attacked targets on an Iraqi air base Thursday southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said. The strike came after Iraqi forces fired anti-aircraft artillery at coalition jets patrolling the southern no-fly zone of that country, a Pentagon official said.
  • --Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash and Pentagon Producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.




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