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Congress Prepares for Hearings on Anti-Saddam Strategy - 2002-09-11

Senior Bush administration officials were back on Capitol Hill Tuesday, briefing lawmakers on Iraq. A congressional panel heard testimony from former U.N. inspectors about the threat posed by Iraq's biological and nuclear weapons programs.

National security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and CIA director, George Tenet, returned to Capitol Hill to hold more classified briefings for House and Senate leaders.

Several lawmakers said afterward they received no new significant information concerning Iraqi weapons development efforts.

However, the meetings took place as key congressional committees prepare for hearings on what action the administration may take to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Lawmakers indicate they intend to vote on a resolution of support before the House and Senate adjourn in early October to prepare for elections.

Many members are waiting for President Bush's speech Thursday to the United Nations on Iraq. But some are revealing more of what they have learned from administration and other sources.

Senate minority leader Republican Trent Lott was questioned by reporters about suspected Iraqi weapons development sites.

"We have reason to believe that he has gone back and reactivated them [weapons sites], some of them he could still argue they have 'dual use.' But the fact of the matter is they can be used for very dangerous purposes," he said.

Senator Lott said he believes a congressional vote would overwhelmingly support President Bush on Iraq, adding that Congress will not feel constrained to wait for the United Nations to toughen its position on Iraq.

"The Security Council has acted how many times, 16? What good has it done?" asked Senator Lott. "This time are they going to act expeditiously, with some clear directions about what must happen? Are we going to wait for them to taken an action before we show we agree with our own administration?"

One congressional panel has already begun hearings on Iraq.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, former U.N. weapons inspectors Richard Spertzel and David Kay said the United States should move quickly to eliminate Iraq's nuclear and biological weapons capabilities.

"Iraq's greatest threat to the United States, certainly to the U.S. homeland, is in the production of bacterial agents to be used by terrorists," emphasized Mr. Spertzel. "They have the capability. They have the motive."

"I would not run the risk, of an individual with his track record, having the ability to inflict tremendous harm," said David Kay. "You might be right, we might be able to deter him. I don't like 'mights' when you talk about nuclear weapons in the hands of people like Saddam Hussein."

The views of Mr. Kay and Mr. Spertzel contrast sharply with another former U.N. inspector, Scott Ritter, who has been in Baghdad, and has downplayed the threat posed by Iraqi weapons programs.