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Senate opens Iraq debate

Daschle cites room for 'improvement' in resolution

Minority Leader Trent Lott says the Senate debate will
Minority Leader Trent Lott says the Senate debate will "send a message to the world."

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CNN's Jonathan Karl says U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle is notably absent from a meeting with President George W. Bush over his Iraq resolution (October 2)
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U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is in Vienna to lay out practical arrangements for inspectors in Iraq. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports (September 30)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Senate debate on committing U.S. troops to disarm Iraq marks "the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein and all he stands for," Minority Leader Trent Lott said Thursday.

"It is time that we take action to avoid some horrendous events that could occur if we don't," the Mississippi Republican said.

The Senate voted 95-1 on a procedural motion that clears the way for votes next week. Sen. Robert Byrd, the chamber's senior Democrat, voted against it and warned that a pre-emptive strike would turn the United States into a "rogue nation."

Bush argues that Iraq's efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. He has repeatedly urged the United Nations to enforce its resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm, warning that he would take action if the world body did not.

"The choice is up to the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill its word," Bush said Thursday. "And if neither of them acts, the United States, in deliberate fashion, will lead a coalition to take away the world's worst weapons from one of the world's worst leaders."

But Byrd, the Senate's president pro tem, said attacking Iraq without an immediate threat would turn the United States into "a bully ready to draw both guns and start shooting immediately."

"The United States is not a rogue nation given to unilateral action in the face of worldwide opprobrium," the West Virginia Democrat said. "We're about to change the face of the United States, a nation that believes in liberty and justice and human rights."

Debate is expected to last several days, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said. The House of Representatives is scheduled to take up the matter next week.

Iraq has agreed to allow weapons inspectors to return for the first time since 1998, but the United States says their efforts would be fruitless without a new U.N. resolution threatening military action if Baghdad obstructs their efforts. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, indicated Thursday his team might put off its return as the U.N. Security Council debates the question.

"It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate, with new, changed directives were to arise," Blix said. "It would be better have those earlier."

The Bush administration and House leaders agreed Wednesday on a proposed resolution that would give Bush the power to enforce U.N. disarmament resolutions.

Senators faced the prospect of debating differing resolutions authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq. One resolution, backed by the Bush administration and House leaders, would allow Bush to use U.S. military force against "the continuing threat" posed by Iraq and to enforce Security Council resolutions.

It would require Bush to affirm to Congress that further diplomacy would not succeed in bringing Iraq into compliance and that the military action would not detract from the ongoing war on terrorism, and it would require him to give Congress regular reports on the progress of the campaign.

Daschle said the White House-backed resolution would let Bush commit troops on the basis of U.N. resolutions unrelated to disarmament.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, introduced the bipartisan resolution in the Senate.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, introduced the bipartisan resolution in the Senate.

"There is still improvement that I think can be made and as long as I think that there is a chance that we could make additional improvements, I want to try to do that. I think it is too early to try to give up on making the effort," said Daschle.

Daschle said he will support an amended version of the White House-backed resolution. The modified version was offered by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Indiana Republican Richard Lugar. Their proposal, in part, puts more emphasis on U.N. support without precluding unilateral U.S. action if needed. It would also attempt to better define the threat that Baghdad poses: namely that Iraq is dangerous because of its weapons of mass destruction.

Daschle said that measure "makes more explicit the purpose of the effort and ties down what it is we're authorizing the use of force for."

An alternative resolution offered by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, would restrict the use of U.S. armed forces to implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions to disarm Iraq. If the United Nations fails to reach a consensus, Congress could reconvene to authorize action on its own.

"Seeking the support of the world community is not giving the U.N. a veto. It is getting strength and credibility should force be needed," Levin said.

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