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Officials, lawmakers discuss price tag for Iraq

U.S. to seek foreign help at donors' conference this week

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Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Dianne Feinstein, D- California, appeared on CNN's "Late Edition."

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(CNN) -- Bush administration officials and lawmakers spent much of Sunday's talk shows discussing the Iraq reconstruction effort and how much more money the United States should contribute.

The issue is timely because the United States will go to Madrid, Spain, for a two-day conference of potential donor nations this week, where it will try to convince skeptical world leaders that the Iraq effort is working and persuade them to help. (Full story)

"We have difficult work ahead of us, but we should also be quite proud of what we've accomplished so far," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"The infrastructure's being restored. Children are going to school. Civil life and active life is returning to the streets."

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who recently withdrew from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, presented a different view on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"It is a quagmire. We're losing one soldier a day. ... If we don't have a strategy to exit honorably and expeditiously, I think it has the fingerprints of another Vietnam."

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, appearing with Graham on the same program, disagreed.

"Comparisons with Vietnam are grossly overdrawn. We were having hundreds of casualties a week in Vietnam. ... It just is not applicable at this time," said McCain, a Vietnam veteran who spent almost six years as a prisoner of war.

"But we cannot continue to experience casualties. And that's why the reconstruction has to move forward. If you cut off the money to reconstruct Iraq -- or announce that we're going to pull out -- then of course things would descend into a quagmire."

The House and Senate approved separate appropriations bills late last week for military campaigns and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House approved $87 billion, and the Senate approved $2 billion less.

The Senate bill included an amendment strongly opposed by the White House that would convert half of the $20 billion requested for Iraq's reconstruction from grants into loans. (Full story)

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said the loan amendment would not be helpful at the donor conference.

"We can't go to the donor conference ... and ask countries around the world to contribute in the form of grants if we have just decided to send a bill to Iraq, thereby encumbering their oil, which is their only resource, to pay us back in the future," McConnell said.

"That's not the message we want to send."

But Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, appearing on the same program, argued that the loan could be forgiven, and that would put the United States "in a very strong position" to turn to other nations owed money by Iraq and say, "If you forgive your loans, we'll forgive our loan."

She said that if the latest budget request is included, "we've now spent over $166 billion on this war. I really think that's enough."

McCain said that if the loan amendment is signed into law, it "would authenticate all those bad people that are doing terrible things in Iraq and trying to undermine our position there" because it would send the message that the United States is after Iraq's oil revenues.

Graham, who voted against the package, said handing the administration all the money it seeks would remove pressure "to negotiate seriously for internationalization of the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq."

The Senate and House bills will be debated in a conference committee before a single version is presented to President Bush for signature.

Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, appearing on "Late Edition," said forcing $10 billion in loans on Iraq is a bad idea.

"I think the right approach is to continue to do what we can to create the conditions for economic growth in Iraq, and I don't think that is putting more debt on an already heavily debt-burdened country and basically a bankrupt country," Evans said.

"I think there's this great misunderstanding as to the wealth of the country of Iraq," he said.

Over the next year, "we forecast about $12 billion in revenues from oil production" -- just enough for Iraq to pay interest on its existing debt.

Evans was asked about Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's comments to Congress in March that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction.

"The oil revenues of [Iraq] could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years," Wolfowitz said then.

Evans said if Iraq's oil production increases and world oil prices jump substantially, such figures would be possible.


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