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Partisan Sparring Continues

Congressional leaders were hoping to soon reach agreement on the wording of the resolution authorizing force against Iraq. But Republicans and Democrats continued to spar over the United Nations' role and the severity of the threat from Saddam Hussein.

At a news conference Monday, three House Democrats visiting Baghdad urged both Iraq and the U.S. not to interfere in the U.N. weapons inspection process and said war was not the only way out of the crisis.

"There is a way to solve this crisis without war. It is for the Iraqis not to interfere and for the United States not to interfere in the inspections process," said Rep. David Bonior, a Michigan Democrat.

Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat who has suggested the Bush administration may be misleading the American public on the dangers posed by Iraq, said the U.S. goal should be disarmament, not toppling Saddam.

"The American people are not with one voice on Iraq and they are debating about it like the rest of the world," McDermott said.

"Regime change requires war. Disarming can be done diplomatically," McDermott said.

GOP lawmakers, lining up behind President Bush, said it is unlikely that Saddam will allow inspectors unfettered access to search for weapons of mass destruction.

"He is not going to allow them back in, because he has these weapons and materials and laboratories and he isn't about to give them up," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Congress may consider a resolution on Iraq this week, though negotiations on terms continue. Mr. Bush said Saturday that agreement was near and predicted that "soon we will speak with one voice."

Democrats say they will not give the president open-ended authority and are seeking to put more emphasis on a multilateral approach.

The Senate's top Republican, Trent Lott of Mississippi, said Sunday that he wants a resolution that can attract as much support as possible.

"We're still working on language that can bring the largest number of Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, together," Lott, R-Miss., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., agreed but said the key will be rooting the resolution in the United Nations as "primary responder."

By acting alone, Dodd said, the United States could lose the cooperation it needs in the larger war on terrorism.

Lawmakers also disagreed on the immediacy of the threat.

"There is no evidence that I have seen that indicates there is an imminent threat," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday. There is time to build international support for U.S. action, she said.

"What if you're wrong?" asked Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. "I'm not willing to wait until something happens to this country."

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, agreed with Feinstein.

"There are people in Washington who see war as a foreign policy option. I think war should always be the last option," Durbin said Sunday.

Speaking from Baghdad, Democrats McDermott and Bonior said Iraqi officials assured them that they will allow weapons inspectors full access.

"Let the U.N. inspectors do their job," Bonior said Sunday. He said that Iraqi officials assured him they would allow "unrestricted, unfettered" access, though they do want "their sovereignty respected."

"They don't want to be having knocked on the door during prayer and say, 'Open up this building in five minutes,'" he said. "They want to be treated with some dignity and respect."

The Democrats' comments were quickly dismissed by the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Don Nickles of Oklahoma.

"They both sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government," Nickles said.

Iraq has said it would allow weapons inspectors though said Saturday that they must return under terms of previous U.N. resolutions, meaning inspectors would not have access to sprawling presidential palaces.

McDermott also said that Mr. Bush might mislead Americans about the threat Iraq poses, comparing the situation to misleading statements by President Johnson about the Vietnam War.

"It would not surprise me if they came with some information that is not provable," he said. "I think the president would mislead the American people."

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded that Bush has made a "very clear case" regarding Iraq's actions.

"The American people know he hasn't misled anyone and the American people know he won't mislead anyone," he said.

With such divided views, Mr. Bush must make his case for military action, said Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

"We don't want to get into a situation like Vietnam, for instance, where we had a house divided, the Congress was divided, the American people were divided," he said Sunday.

"Anything the president can do to meet with the congressional leaders, to address a joint session of Congress, to bring about unanimity, I think would be very important and very positive."

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