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White House, Senate seek compromise on detainees

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republicans wrangling with the White House over proposed rules for the interrogation of suspected terrorists think there is a "50-50" chance of breaking the deadlock, said a Republican Senate staffer familiar with the negotiations.

The staffer referred to the White House proposal that was sent to Capitol Hill Monday night as "a serious offer on their part." But he said the senators were not "accepting it in its current form" and intended to send the White House a proposal of their own sometime Tuesday.

Nonetheless, the proposal indicated for the first time the Bush administration's willingness to compromise on the issue, the staffer added. (Watch two sides state their cases on interrogations -- 1:54)

White House spokesman Dana Perino said the Bush administration is committed to reaching a resolution.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republican senators who has bucked the White House on the detainee issue, called the White House proposal "good" and said any counter-proposal from the senators would be "part of the process."

The negotiations come after Sens. McCain, John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and panel member Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, defied President Bush last week and voted against White House-backed legislation aimed at "clarifying" what U.S. law considers the acceptable treatment of prisoners under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The White House proposal focused on Article 3 -- the international standards for treating prisoners -- and one of the main sticking points in the deadlock, the staffer said.

Article 3 prohibits nations engaged in combat from "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." (Read the full text of Article 3)

President Bush and other top officials have said the changes are needed to give clear guidelines and legal protection to CIA interrogators. Bush said earlier this month that he has authorized "tough" techniques on suspected al Qaeda figures -- methods he won't disclose but insists are within U.S. law banning torture. (Watch as President Bush insists CIA must be allowed to be tough on suspects -- 3:16)

The Republican senators, backed by three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argue that reinterpreting Geneva Conventions would spur other countries to do the same and jeopardize American troops in captivity.

On Friday, Bush said the CIA interrogation program, which he credits for thwarting terrorist plots, would stop unless Congress approved the White House legislation. (Full story)

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday that a compromise might be possible without changing the Geneva Conventions. But he said the agents taking part in the interrogation program "deserve clear legal standards and clear congressional support."

The intraparty squabble comes as many GOP incumbents are using the war on terrorism as a campaign issue in hopes of keeping control of Congress after midterm elections, which are weeks away.

Congress is set to adjourn in two weeks.

CNN's Andrea Koppel, Lisa Goddard and Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.


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GOP senators disagree with Bush about how terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay should be handled.

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