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House leaders discuss U.S.-Iraq strategy

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush lobbied skeptical members of the U.N. Security Council by telephone Friday in hopes of building support for any possible U.S. action against Iraq.

The White House is seeking a congressional endorsement of any military action, preferably before Congress adjourns in October for midterm elections.

In a CNN interview Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, talked about the issue from CNN's Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Can we talk a little bit about the meetings both of you had yesterday with the head of the CIA and the vice president? You had high-level intelligence briefings on what is going on in Iraq. How concerned are you, Mr. Speaker, about all you've heard?

HASTERT: Well, I -- I'm concerned. I think the bottom line is, we're here to commemorate the bravery of the people of New York. We just don't want to see anything happen again to the people of the United States.

And I think we need to be very careful. I think we need to follow the leadership of the president. If he thinks that there's a concern, he needs to make that case to the American people and to the Congress, and he will. But we need to take every precaution we can so that this type of thing doesn't happen again in this country.

ZAHN: Was there anything you heard yesterday that reinforced -- in your mind -- that the U.S. needs to go into Iraq?

HASTERT: Well, we're looking at all options. First of all, diplomatically, and also militarily, if we have to. I think there are some new pieces of evidence that I heard that I hadn't heard before that concerns me.

But I get the CIA briefings almost every week. We know the history of Saddam Hussein; we know that he's a bad actor. We know that he's had weapons of mass destruction, and he's used them against the Iranians. He's used them against the Kurds in his own country, and he would use them against anybody else, too.

ZAHN: Representative Gephardt, how concerned were you about what you heard? Anything new?

GEPHARDT: It was information. It's classified information, so we can't give it out, but...

ZAHN: But can you characterize the importance of it? Or or whether there was any differentiation from what you've heard. I know you get briefings...

GEPHARDT: It was added information, but we've known for some time that Saddam Hussein is a problem. He has weapons of mass destruction, he used them against his own people and against other countries.

We live now in a world of terrorism. We know that terrorists, as they did, unfortunately, on 9/11, can come here and kill thousands of Americans. Our responsibility is to prevent that from ever happening again in America. So we've got to do, diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must, what we must to take this threat away.

ZAHN: One of the ideas being thrown about is by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, who said the United States really needs to go to the United Nations and ask for a much tougher security resolution before even contemplating going to war. Does that make sense to you?

HASTERT: Well, the president's going to go to the U.N. I think Thursday he's going to be before the U.N.

But you know, Saddam Hussein has defied the United Nations 16 times and has given that lip service but not done anything. We haven't had inspectors in there for almost five years. He would have a chance to prove to the world that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, he didn't have intent to harm people of the world. And he's defied the United Nations and the world, of showing that he had no intentions to do these things.

ZAHN: I guess the idea, though, by Senator Daschle, if you ask for this type of resolution, then it gives you the support, potentially, down the road, of allies who say, "Okay, we are on board because he violated this resolution." Do you think the president will even ask for a U.N. resolution?

GEPHARDT: I'm not sure what he'll do. I think it's important that we build a strategy to try to achieve the goal of keeping the American people safe in a world of weapons of mass destruction and in a world of terrorism. Part of that is getting allies to help us.

[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair's going to be here Saturday. The president's going to be talking to the heads of a lot of other nations around the world. He's going to the United Nations.

Part of doing this the right way, and a successful way, is to put together a coalition. Sometimes that takes diplomatic efforts as well as military efforts to get that done. I'm hoping that that will be the way the president proceeds so that we can succeed.

The idea here is to keep the American people safe. That's what this is all about. Politics has to be put to the side, and we've got to do the right thing for country and the American people.

ZAHN: Nevertheless, there's a lot of criticism of the administration. The administration at this point is not speaking with the same voice.

Do you think Speaker Hastert, that the administration has made its case? We know the president's going before the U.N. on Thursday, of course, of next week. But, given what we know right now, what kind of a job has the administration done in trying to convince the American public?

HASTERT: I think one thing you can say about this administration, and first of all, there is an open debate inside the administration. I think that's good, and I think that's healthy. I think when they -- the president will listen to all sides, when he has made his decision on which way to go, he will go before the United Nations, as we say he's going to do next week, and I think he'll take the case to the American people. He's had a great ability to lead, and I think this president will continue to do that.

ZAHN: What are your concerns if there ultimately is military action against Iraq? Senator John Kerry [D-Massachusetts] raises, in a [newspaper] op-ed piece today, that what you've really got to figure out is how long-term the involvement of the United States would be down the road.

GEPHARDT: Well, Paula, we -- We face a long-term involvement in this part of the world generally.

You've got problems abounding in Afghanistan. You saw yesterday they tried to assassinate the head of the country. They killed a lot of people. We're going to be involved there, hopefully with an international coalition over as long as it takes to bring stability and peace to that part of the world.

We've got the problems in the Middle East. We've got to do things to build governance among the Palestinians. So there's someone to deal with to bring peace in that region.

And if action is taken in Afghanistan, we've got to be committed with an international coalition there to bring that to a successful conclusion.

We are in a period of time, a challenge a lot like World War II, where we've got to face terrorism. And the best way to face it is to prevent it from happening, preventing people from wanting to be terrorists. Which means we've got to take our ideals, which are really universal ideals, to countries in a lot of places around the world. And we need help from other countries to do this.

ZAHN: Speaker Hastert, just a reflection on what you all will be experiencing later today as you convene Congress downtown and later visit Ground Zero.

HASTERT: I think we all lived through September 11. We were in Washington. We went through this ordeal, but not like the people here in New York went. And I think we're here to be in solidarity with the people of New York, to honor those people who died and those people who were the real heroes.




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