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Bush briefs Congress on Powell speech

Biden cites importance of 'evidence'

House Minority Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Maryland, left and Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, after meeting with President Bush Wednesday.
House Minority Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Maryland, left and Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, after meeting with President Bush Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Leading lawmakers expressed hope Wednesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations will convince skeptical nations that Iraq is defying disarmament resolutions.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, spoke after he and other congressional leaders met at the White House with President Bush to discuss the pivotal presentation.

Lugar described it as "very powerful case" against Iraq and expressed optimism that it would sway world opinion against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"Yup, it should," Lugar said, speaking before Powell began his remarks.

Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the presentation by Powell to the Security Council is "legitimate" and "correct," but he did not believe the secretary of state would give much "new information."

"I think if I had this evidence before a jury, I could get a conviction," Biden said.

However, the Delaware lawmaker said, Powell has a tougher, more skeptical jury: world opinion.

He said it will be "interesting and important" to see how the Security Council responds because there is no smoking gun. He added that Powell's "presentation is important because perception matters."

Asked whether he thought Powell's speech would be compelling, he said, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We'll see how the rest of the world will respond."

The White House breakfast meeting, which lasted about an hour and a half, was opened by the president, who then turned the floor over to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who summarized the case Powell will make at the United Nations.

Many members of Congress, particularly Democrats, have been calling on the administration to make a clearer case that Saddam poses a threat to the United States and the world before the president sends troops in to topple him.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she is pleased the administration will get "beyond the rhetoric." She said Rice's summary made clear that Powell will "finally give some facts" in the form of a "legal brief."

"This is what we should have been doing awhile ago," Harman said.

The members of Congress attending the meeting included House and Senate leadership from both parties and chairmen and ranking members of Foreign Relations, Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

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