Washington (Reuters) – With President George W. Bush expected to use his State of the Union address to bolster his case for attacking Iraq, top Senators on Wednesday urged him to cool the war rhetoric and seek more support from allies and the American people.
“I think it would be a huge mistake if the president went forward without the support of our allies and the United Nations,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota told reporters.
Daschle complained that a White House report to Congress earlier in the week did not discuss key issues — how to keep the international coalition together to deal with Iraq; rising opposition from allies as U.S. troops mass in the Gulf; and stabilizing the country after President Saddam Hussein is removed.
The administration has sounded closer to war in recent days, saying it is losing patience with Iraq for not coming clean on the weapons program that Washington insists it has. Iraq denies having weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. weapons inspectors are to report on their findings on Monday, but say they have months more work to do to complete inspections. A number of key allies insist that the inspectors be given time to finish their work.
Bush gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday, when Democrats and some Republicans say he will have to strengthen his case if he intends to go to war.
“In terms of trying to gain more of an international consensus for what the president hopes to do, assuming that is his decision, yes we have to do more of that, and we have to get more of a consensus here at home as well,” said Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
BIDEN URGES CAUTION
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Bush either should “commit to letting the weapons inspectors finish their job,” or give the inspectors “the intelligence information that we have to make the case” that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
Biden, in an interview, said he was urging fellow Democrats to take the position that “absent some compelling evidence, we should let the inspectors run out their string.” He said the nuclear standoff with North Korea, which has expelled U.N. monitors, was the more serious threat to U.S. security.
Biden said he believed a majority of senators do not back a war with Iraq now, although they might not vote against it.
“I think you’d get a majority voice that would say if they had a chance to counsel the president personally, they’d say Mr President, cool it,” Biden said.
But he said Bush would get support in a vote because few Republicans would want to be viewed as “pulling the rug out from under him, and an awful lot of Democrats would say we’d be blamed if this thing falls apart if we look like we’re not supporting him.”
Biden also said Bush had done little to prepare the American people for the hardships and costs of war and of rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq afterward. “There is no informed consent at this point,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, in a speech in Los Angeles, said “the massive increase” of U.S. troops in the Gulf indicated that “regardless of the findings of the U.N. inspectors, the president may well intend to use military force to bring about regime change … This is deeply disturbing.”
Feinstein said the administration had been pursuing contradictory policies, “beating the drums of war” with Iraq while seeking a diplomatic solution for North Korea, which had “confused and angered many of our closest friends and allies.”