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Bush Party Members Cautiously Optimistic About Deal on Detainee Bill


The Bush administration and Senate Republicans are working to resolve differences over legislation dealing with the handling of terrorism suspects, and hope to reach agreement before November's congressional elections.

Less than a week after the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation opposed by the White House on the handling of terror suspects, administration officials are working with key Republicans on the panel to find a compromise.

The administration and Republican congressional leaders, concerned about appearing divided on a key issue in the war on terror, hope to reach a deal before midterm elections November 7.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in New York for meetings at the United Nations, spoke about the matter on NBC television's Today program. "I do believe that the president and the Congress can work together to get a law that allows us to get the information we need legally and within our treaty obligations to protect the American people and to protect people abroad," she said.

Lawmakers are drafting legislation in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year which struck down the military commissions set up by the administration to try terror suspects. The court ruled the commissions did not comply with U.S. law and were inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions, which ensures the humane treatment of detainees.

But the administration argues the Conventions are vaguely worded, and is seeking a system that would allow tough interrogations - within limits set by law, and military tribunals to try terror suspects.

Key Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, including the chairman, Senator John Warner of Virginia and Senator John McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, are concerned the administration's proposals could open the door to violations of international standards and prompt other countries to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions. They favor a program to try terror suspects using a more traditional approach of military courts, with greater rights for defendants than those proposed by the Bush administration. They also disagree with the administration's proposal to withhold classified evidence from defendants in terror trials.

But not all Senate Republicans see it that way. Majority Leader Bill Frist endorses the administration plan. "Any bill that we pass in the Senate has to achieve two goals. First, it has to preserve our intelligence programs, programs that we know are saving American lives; and second, protect classified information from terrorists who could exploit this information in planning attacks against the American people," he said.

Frist agrees with Secretary Rice that Senate Republicans can reach a compromise on the issue, but has delayed floor action on the legislation until next week at the earliest.

The Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, predicts little momentum on the legislation amid continued Republican disagreement. "The President picked a battle, and he thought it would be with Democrats, but it has been with Republicans. Until they resolve their issues, I do not think there is much that can be done on that," he said.

House Republican leaders have also postponed a vote on the matter that was initially scheduled for Wednesday.