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Congress cool to role in Iraqi inspections

White House dismisses comments from Baghdad

Republican aides say it's unlikely that House Speaker Dennis Hastert would approve a congressional trip to Iraq for weapons inspections.
Republican aides say it's unlikely that House Speaker Dennis Hastert would approve a congressional trip to Iraq for weapons inspections.  

From Kate Snow
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some senior Republican and Democratic aides on Capitol Hill called far-fetched the notion of a U.S. congressional delegation heading to Baghdad to conduct weapons inspections.

"When it comes to foreign policy, we let the administration handle negotiations," said one senior Republican aide.

An aide to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, said the situation hasn't changed since the Iraqi government first floated the idea several weeks ago. The aide said U.N. weapons inspectors need to be allowed in with "unfettered access."

Tuesday, a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad said it would be "foolish" for Iraq to allow U.N. weapon inspections to resume, adding that the only arms inspections Iraq would permit would involve a U.S. congressional team. The senior official was very critical of President Bush, describing him as "an idiot."

From Crawford, Texas -- where President Bush is spending time at his ranch -- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer dismissed the latest comments from Baghdad.

"Iraq has been known for saying all kinds of inflammatory things in the past," Fleischer said. "And the president's not really interested as much in what they say as what they do."

Another senior Republican congressional aide put it this way: "There's little to discuss. We have a situation where Saddam Hussein and his government are in violation of numerous weapons protocols. It's not a matter for the United States to show good faith here. The burden of good faith rests with Saddam Hussein's government."

Aides said members of Congress would have little to gain from a trip to Baghdad.

"What are they going to find out?" one aide told CNN Tuesday. "They're going to see whatever Saddam Hussein wants them to see. They'll be used. They'll get lectured to. There will be nothing approaching dialogue. Why allow yourself to be used like that?"

Democratic and Republican aides noted that members of Congress see weapons inspections as a United Nations function, not a role for the U.S. Congress.

"That's been made clear by previous U.N. Security Council resolutions," a Republican aide said. "There would be American participation, obviously. But members of Congress are not the weapons experts."

Any official House delegation traveling on government expense and using military planes to fly to Iraq would need the approval of both the U.S. State Department and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Republican aides said Hastert would be "unlikely" to sanction such a trip.

Still, one lawmaker who is against U.S military action in Iraq said he would talk to colleagues about the prospect of sending a delegation to Iraq.

"I think we need to look for any opening we can to avoid a war and we shouldn't pass up any opportunity for resolution," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told CNN. The lawmaker has been outspoken in opposing any U.S. military action in Iraq.

Kucinich said he was not aware of any official invitation from the Iraqis to any member of Congress, but he said if certain conditions were met, the idea should be explored.

"Dialogue is good," Kucinich said. "America used to talk to Iraq all the time. Members of Congress don't have any special skill in weapons inspection. However, if members could be accompanied by weapons inspection experts, that could be a step in the right direction."

In addition to bringing weapons experts on the trip, Kucinich said, the delegation would also have to be a bipartisan group and the Iraqi government would need to allow the delegation to travel freely in Iraq.




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