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US Congress Resumes Debate on Iraq Resolution

The House and Senate resume debate Wednesday on a White House-supported resolution to authorize U.S.-led military action against Iraq. The resolution is expected to gain wide approval in the House, but a final vote in the Senate may have to be delayed.

House speaker Dennis Hastert began debate Tuesday by referring to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Mr. Hastert said the United States cannot afford to wait until all questions concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or Saddam's intentions to use them, are answered. "We must give the United Nations the backbone it needs to enforce its own resolutions," he said. "But if the U.N. refuses to save itself and more importantly the security of its member states, and the cause of peace in this world, we must take all appropriate action to protect ourselves."

Other speakers, Democrat and Republican, echoed Mr. Hastert. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California is among Democrats supporting the resolution because she says it gives peaceful options a chance to work before resorting to war. "Congress is making clear our first priority is building an international coalition through the United Nations," she said. "If the President decides diplomatic efforts have failed, he must inform Congress and explain his reasoning."

However, congressional opponents remain unconvinced. Washington, D.C. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton says if Congress passes the resolution, it would set a dangerous precedent in giving up its constitutional authority to declare war. "By reclaiming our constitutional right to declare war and reclaiming two centuries of American principles - let Congress speak up, so that none may be sent to war without Congress sending them there," said Eleanor Holmes Norton.

House critics of the Bush administration say they now have 100 votes lined up against the resolution. That's still far below the number needed to succeed in a final vote by the House.

In the Senate, the resolution faces continuing uncertainty. Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, calling the Iraq resolution a "blank check", has indicated he may use parliamentary tactics to delay a final vote

Controversy was added to the debate Tuesday when CIA Director George Tenet said a U.S. led attack could push Saddam Hussein into sponsoring terrorist attacks on the United States. Senator Bob Graham read Mr. Tenet's statement made in a letter to a joint congressional committee. "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the United States," he said. "Should Saddam conclude that a U.S. led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions."

Mr. Tenet, who testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday and met privately with lawmakers, adds that the Iraqi leader will likely continue to expand links with terrorists including extremist Palestinians and al-Qaida even without a U.S. led military strike.