Senators threaten to rein in Bush
President faces dissent from his own party on Iraq
Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday October 2, 2002
The White House was last night trying to fight off a Senate effort to place limits on George Bush's authority to launch a military assault on Iraq after leading Republicans sided with the Democrats over the president's war powers.
Mr Bush accused the Senate of attempting to tie his hands over Iraq after a prominent Republican senator, Richard Lugar, backed a resolution that would give the administration the right to act militarily only to enforce the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime. The resolution would also require the administration to assemble an international coalition before considering an attack.
The proposal - co-authored by the Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Joseph Biden - differs significantly from a war resolution presented by the White House last month, which would give the president unconditional and unlimited powers to take action against Iraq.
The dissenting Senate version also drew support from another key Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, a respected Vietnam veteran, threatening Mr Bush with the prospect of a Republican mutiny over his war powers.
The president invited congressional leaders from both parties to a breakfast meeting at the White House this morning in an attempt to find a compromise, arguing that it could undermine his negotiating clout in the UN security council.
"I'm not sure why members would like to weaken the [White House] resolution, but we'll work with the members, and I'm confident we can get something done," the president told journalists yesterday. "And we'll be speaking with one voice here in the country, and that's going to be important for the United Nations to hear that voice. It's going to be important for the world to hear that voice."
Congress is due to launch a debate this week on a war that a congressional committee estimated would cost the US up to $9bn (£5.7bn) a month. Before the debate on a war resolution begins, however, the White House is seeking to find a form of words that would win overwhelming bipartisan support.
The president compared the Biden-Lugar version with a Senate vote in 1998, calling for President Saddam's overthrow.
He said: "I don't want to get a resolution which ties my hands; a resolution which is weaker than that which was passed out of the Congress in 1998. Congress, in 1998, passed a very strong resolution. They wisely recognised that Saddam Hussein is a threat.
"He was a threat in '98, and he's more of a threat four years later. My question is, what's changed? Why would Congress want to weaken the resolution? This guy's had four years to lie, deceive, to arm up. He's had four years to thumb his nose at the world. He's stockpiling more weapons."
The 1998 vote did not explicitly endorse the use of US forces to oust Saddam, but Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, argued that it was implicit in the resolution.
"When they passed regime change in 1998, you have to as sume they meant it," Mr Fleischer said. He said a congressional mandate which limited the president's authority to use force to disarm the Baghdad regime would prevent the US responding if Iraq repeated its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
· A newspaper in Germany quoted a Pentagon adviser as saying the best thing Gerhard Schröder could do to ease relations with the US over Iraq would be to quit. "It would be best if he resigned," Richard Perle said.