U.S. Legislators, in Iraq, Urge Restraint

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 30, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 29 -- Three Democratic congressmen visiting Iraq said today that they received assurances from Iraqi officials that U.N. weapons inspectors would be given unconditional access to sites they wished to visit as long as they respected the country's sovereignty as well as its cultural and religious beliefs.

Reps. Jim McDermott (Wash.), David E. Bonior (Mich.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.) urged the Bush administration against pushing for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would threaten the use of force against Iraq, saying that such a step could prevent the inspections.

Although Iraq has promised to allow the inspectors to return, Iraq's vice president said Saturday that his nation would not submit to inspections under any new resolution that threatens military action or incorporates demands by the Bush administration to revise the rules. A draft U.N. resolution circulated by the U.S. government calls for inspectors to be accompanied by guards and to be allowed to freely enter Iraq's presidential palaces.

Iraqi officials insist the inspectors follow procedures previously agreed to by the United Nations when visiting presidential sites, including providing advance notice and conducting the inspections in the presence of diplomats. Iraqi officials also have asked for assurances that inspectors would not conduct inspections on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.

In a joint interview at their hotel, the congressmen said that the Iraqi government should be given an opportunity to demonstrate good faith and that inspections should first be attempted under the existing rules.

Bonior said the White House should allow the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, "to do his job without interference."

"They need to step aside," Bonior said. "Iraq needs to step aside. Mr. Blix needs a chance to do his work."

Blix is scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials in Vienna on Monday to discuss details of the inspectors' return. He has said the inspectors could arrive in Baghdad as early as Oct. 15.

McDermott said he did not see a problem with suspending some inspections on Fridays, saying he doubted Iraq "could make a bomb on Friday and launch it on Saturday."

The three congressmen, who will wrap up their four-day visit on Monday, found themselves in the difficult position of trying to persuade the Iraqi leadership to cooperate with the inspectors even as Congress moves toward voting on a measure that would authorize the use of military force against Iraq. The congressmen, all veterans of the Vietnam War, said they oppose such a measure.

The lawmakers' comments drew immediate fire back home. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said on ABC's "This Week" that he was "really troubled" by McDermott's remarks.

"Basically, he's taking Saddam Hussein's line," Nickles said. "They both sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government. . . . When you have congressmen in Baghdad saying that they think the president would mislead the American people, that's a pretty harsh charge. . . . I don't know what they're doing there."

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