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Take Iraq at its word, congressmen say

By RICHARD TOMKINS   |   Sept. 29, 2002 at 2:41 PM
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Two U.S. congressmen visiting Iraq urged the United States Sunday to take Iraq at its word on allowing unfettered international weapons inspections and stop "provoking" a new Gulf war.

The congressmen -- David Bonier, D-Mich., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. -- said Iraqi officials they have met in Baghdad had all promised that inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction could enter any site they wanted at any time, but that Iraq also wanted to be treated with dignity at the same time.

"They say to the person they will allow unrestricted, unfettered inspections, any time you want, anywhere you want," Bonier said in a live television interview with ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"They want their sovereignty respected ... they want to be treated with some dignity and respect, but basically they are suggesting that everything will be open for the inspections."

McDermott, who like Bonier voted against war with Iraq in 1991, added:

"They said they would allow us to go anywhere we wanted, and until they don't do that, no one needs to do this coercive stuff where you bring in helicopter and armed people and storm buildings.

"I think you have to take the Iraqis on their face value ... They should be given a chance, otherwise were trying to provoke them into war."

The visit to Iraq by the congressmen coincides with negotiations in Washington between Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush on language for a resolution supporting the president in acting against Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime, in keeping with previous U.N. resolutions which Saddam has ignored or violated over the past decade.

U.S. policy on Iraq, adopted during the Clinton administration, also calls for the ouster of Saddam.

The White House, which declined to criticize the congressmen's visit to Iraq, reiterated Sunday that the president was confident he would receive the kind of congressional resolution he desires.

"The president welcomes everyone's opinion and the debate that is ongoing, but as he said in the Rose Garden Thursday he is confident that we will be able to work out with the Congress a bipartisan resolution that is strong, effective and authorizes the use of force," spokesman Gordon Johndroe told United Press International.

Negotiations between the United States and U.N. member states for a strongly worded U.N. resolution that would also authorize military action if Saddam failed to comply with inspection and disarmament mandates within a specific time period were also under way.

Bush, speaking before the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 12 read out a long list of U.N. resolutions imposed on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War that the Baghdad regime had ignored. Citing the threat to peace posed by Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the need to take action to protect its credibility, Bush called on the U.N. to issue a strong resolution that would authorize military action if violated. If it did not, he said, the United States was prepared to act on its own, and with allies, to disarm Iraq.

On Monday, Hans Blix, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, is scheduled to meet in Vienna with Iraqi arms experts to attempt to work out logistical details with Iraq following its Sept. 16 letter to the United Nations pledging re-entry of inspectors absent since 1998 and access without conditions.

It's estimated it would take up to 60 days once arrangements were agreed to for inspectors to be at work.

The Bush administration has called the promise -- made in a letter to the U.N. on Sept. 16 -- another ruse to buy time and divide the U.N. Security Council to keep it from acting against it.

France, China and Russia, all veto-capable members of the Security Council, have voiced opposition to military action against Iraq and have cited the Iraqi letter as evidence a new resolution is not needed.

Bonier and McDermott said they had met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz and with Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, as well as others.

Their movements in the country, they said, had not been restricted in any way.

McDermott said both he and Bonier supported the disarming of Iraq, but the case had not been made for war, and he believed the president "would mislead the American people" to go to war with Iraq.

Bonier added that a new war against Iraq would bring further suffering to the Iraqi people. He also called for attention to be paid to Iraqi children contracting various cancers because of the United States' use of shells made with depleted uranium.

The use of those shells, which increases their ability to penetrate armor, was "horrific and barbaric," he said.

The White House said Sunday "the American people know the president hasn't mislead them, and won't mislead them."

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., criticized the congressmen.

"I'm very troubled by what I just heard," he told ABC's Stephanopoulos. He said saying the president would mislead the American people made them appear "spokespersons for the for the Iraqis government."

"When you have congressman in Baghdad saying they think the president would mislead the American people, that is a pretty harsh charge. I don't know what they're doing there."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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