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Congressional Democrats Urge Patience in UN Inspection Process - 2003-01-24


More than 100 members of Congress have sent a letter to President Bush urging him to exhaust all diplomatic means before taking military action with allies against Iraq.

Most of the 122 lawmakers who signed the letter are Democrats, including some of the harshest critics of the administration position on Iraq.

But the letter itself was authored by two of the more moderate Democratic voices in the House, Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

They took different positions on the Iraq resolution approved overwhelmingly by Congress late last year, authorizing the president to use force if necessary. Mr. Kind voted in favor, Mr. Brown voted against.

However, both believe the Bush administration needs to give the United Nations inspection process more time. Congressman Brown, speaking with reporters in a telephone news conference, said: "People realize that war should always be a last resort, that it shouldn't be waged for resources, and in this instance it should not be waged for anything but clear and convincing evidence of threats from weapons of mass destruction."

Mr. Brown said a pre-emptive strike could provoke [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein into using the very weapons of mass destruction the United States and United Nations are attempting to prevent him from deploying.

The lawmakers urge President Bush to "sufficiently weigh" future decisions regarding Iraq on the assessment due to be issued Monday by the U.N. inspection team headed by Hans Blix.

For Congressman Ron Kind, the administration must remain committed to working through the U.N. Security Council. He said Mr. Bush still has not adequately made the case for military action:

"[In] any democracy, a decision to go to war should not be a close call," he added. "It should be obvious, it should be necessary, it should be seen as just in the eyes of the American people, but also in the international community."

Congressman Kind is convinced Saddam Hussein has hidden his weapons of mass destruction and says the burden of proof remains on the Iraqi leader to cooperate fully with the inspection process.

Mr. Kind says his joining in the appeal to President Bush to allow the U.N. inspection process more time does not contradict his vote last year for the Iraq resolution.

"Many of us who supported the resolution knew it was important for the president to have this type of leverage over a guy like Saddam Hussein, who I believe is incapable of doing the right thing unless there is a threat of force hanging over his head," he said. "But at the time, the president and some of his advisors in the cabinet, were assuring us they would work through the U.N. Security Council, they would work hard to build an international coalition of support to do this the right way and that war, if it comes to that, would generally be the last resort, not the third or fourth option in a long process which I think hasn't been exhausted yet."

In recent days, the administration has been signaling its determination to proceed with military action to assure Iraq's disarmament, even in the face of opposition from allies such as France, Germany and Russia.

Congressmen Brown and Kind pointed to a recent public opinion poll, indicating 70 percent of Americans want the U.N. inspection process to have more time.

They say they hope their appeal to the president will persuade him that he needs to make the case for possible military action against Iraq much clearer, and to use his State of the Union Address to do just that.

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