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Rice, Tenet brief lawmakers on Iraq

Bush works on U.N. speech

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice  


From Kate Snow and Ted Barrett
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet went to Capitol Hill Tuesday to bolster the administration's case for U.S. military action in Iraq as President Bush worked on a speech that he hopes will do the same on the international stage.

One adviser to Bush said the president will outline a "strong and clear" case against Iraq when he speaks Thursday at the United Nations.

The United States and Britain accuse Saddam Hussein of seeking weapons of mass destruction, violating U.N. resolutions dating back to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Iraq denies developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and its vice president said Tuesday that Bush is "trying to convince others to commit an evil act."

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Following the classified briefing, some Democrats and one leading Republican said the administration must go further in advancing its argument that some kind of strike against Iraq is warranted.

House leaders said Rice and Tenet talked about Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capabilities and built on the arguments the administration began making in meetings last week between Bush and lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, called Tuesday's session a "very technical briefing."

Armey said he's still undecided about whether he'll support a use of force in Iraq, but indicated on Tuesday that he still has deep concerns and wants to see a "plan" for military action before he would commit to supporting it.

"This is a big deal," Armey said. "My wife and I sat in our home and we watched those young men get slaughtered on the streets of Mogadishu in the absence of a plan. It broke our heart."

"My vote will never go to commit any young man or woman to such a field until I personally am confident they have a chance of succeeding and a high degree of personal safety. It's a commitment to their parents and I hold it deep in my heart," Armey added.

Emerging from the classified session, members of Congress offered few specifics about the evidence presented by Rice and Tenet.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, says he wants to see a plan for military action in Iraq.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, says he wants to see a plan for military action in Iraq.  

"We're not at liberty to tell you anything that was said in there. If I tell you I'd have to kill ya, and I don't want to do that," Armey quipped.

House International Relations Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, joked with reporters that he had a hard time hearing in the room over the steady drone of what he called a "one note hum", suggesting that the emphasis was on one side of the debate-- in favor of military action.

Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, said Rice and Tenet "reconfirmed what I personally believe -- that we can't use inaction as an option."

But some Democrats suggested they are unconvinced.

House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the administration needs to weigh many factors, including "the threat assessment, military plan, political option, cost of occupation, and what cost it is to our war on terrorism."

"I didn't hear anything today that outweighed other concerns -- questions that need to be answered," Pelosi said.

Rep. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, called the briefing "helpful" but added that "sometimes these raise more questions than answers."

'No room for election politics'

Others questioned the timing of a vote on a resolution to support Bush.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said he proposed in the meeting that any vote should wait until after the November election.

While Lantos said he would personally support the president in using military force, he said the vote should come in a special session devoted to this one topic.

"In a serious, statesmanlike post-election climate you will get a quality debate," Lantos said. The period before the elections, he said, "is the least conducive time for a thoughtful debate."

Hyde called the fact that elections are approaching a "dilemma" for the Congress.

Nonetheless, he said a vote should be taken "as soon as possible in my opinion."

House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Florida, said there was "no room for election politics" in the Iraq debate. But he did not advocate waiting until after the elections for a vote.

At the White House, top presidential advisers said Bush is eager to win international backing and is debating his choice of words carefully.

One senior official involved in planning the speech said it is unlikely to set a deadline for getting weapons inspectors back into Iraq or any deadline for the United States to decide if use of military force is necessary to achieve the administration's objectives.

But Bush will make clear he believes the burden is on the United Nations to prove its credibility by demanding that Iraq comply with its pledges to disarm, the official said.

"You can do that without threats or deadlines," the official said. "The objective is for the world to be with you if you come to the military option."

-- Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.