Compromise on Iraq

The agreement, announced after a pivotal White House meeting yesterday morning among Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and four congressional leaders, cleared the way for a historic and lengthy debate to begin on the war resolution in the Senate today and the House next week.

Few question that Congress will approve the compromise or something close to it before lawmakers head home at the end of next week for the midterm elections, but some Democrats and Republicans still are expected to try to restrict Bush’s authority.

The agreement is less sweeping than the proposal Bush originally sought Sept. 19 and contains more concessions than the White House agreed to late last Thursday. It moved toward an alternative put forward by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that would more sharply focus the use of force on Iraq’s cache of weapons of mass destruction.

The compromise was more specific about the circumstances that would prompt military action, listing defense of the nation’s security against threats posed by Iraq and enforcement of “all relevant” United Nations Security Council resolutions. The relevancy language was added to allay concerns that U.S. troops not be used to require Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to return Kuwaiti prisoners or halt human rights abuses.

It would require Bush to notify Congress no later than two days after he has committed troops that he had done so. He would be required to state that he dispatched troops after determining that diplomatic efforts were dead and unlikely to lead to enforcement of UN resolutions. Bush also would have to state that military conflict would not divert from the nation’s war against terror, a new requirement.

Like the first White House compromise, yesterday’s accord dropped a broad phrase that would have allowed the president to engage in war to “restore international peace and security in the region,” something critics said would have given Bush leeway to go to war anywhere in the Mideast. Bush also would have to report to Congress every 60 days, rather than every 90 days, as initially sought.

The agreement exposed deep divisions among Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) attended the White House morning session but did not sign on to the compromise that his House counterpart, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), backed. Daschle was not invited to a celebratory gathering in the Rose Garden and later signaled he intends to continue to press for changes. Republicans at the meeting were House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Daschle supports the alternative offered by Biden, Hagel and Lugar, which would limit use of force only to compel Iraq to disarm chemical and biological weapons and halt its drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

“At the end of this process, I am certain the Senate will adopt with broad bipartisan support a resolution that clearly provides the president the authority he needs to deal with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction,” Daschle said in a statement.

Biden canceled a Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and Daschle scratched his regular noontime meeting with reporters. Soon after, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), John W. Warner (R-Va.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered the compromise in the Senate.

Some Democrats expressed dismay privately about Gephardt striking a deal with the White House, saying it undercut Daschle. Gephardt said Daschle and his staff were involved in the negotiations.

Biden conceded that political momentum was working against him, though he said he still wants a Senate vote on his proposal. “The straight, honest answer is it’s probably too late,” Biden said, adding that the compromise probably will attract “a lot of votes – that’s going to create a lot of momentum.”

Warning that “on its present course the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency,” Bush celebrated the agreement at the Rose Garden event.

“Saddam must disarm, period,” Bush said. “If, however, he chooses to do otherwise, if he persists in his defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable.”

Gephardt, a possible presidential contender in 2004, emerged early in the talks with the White House as a hawk toward Iraq. He told those gathered at the White House that he sought a compromise “to ensure that Iraq is disarmed and to lessen the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction can be passed to terrorists.”

As the House International Relations Committee began discussing the compromise last night, Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who faces a tough re-election bid, came out forcefully against the resolution, calling it “mutual assured destruction.” The panel’s opening session was disrupted by three female protesters who chanted “No war with Iraq.”

William Douglas and Tim Higgins contributed to this story.

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