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Wednesday, September 3

Senators praise Bush's U.N. move despite concerns it's late

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

Key senators said Wednesday that President Bush's offer to exchange some control in Iraq with the United Nations for greater international help came late, but not too late to stabilize the country and help it become a democracy.

From left to right, Republican to Democrat, there was widespread relief on Capitol Hill that Bush authorized Secretary of State Colin Powell to try to negotiate a new U.N. resolution that would broaden the international coalition occupying and running Iraq and lay out a timetable for new elections.

Congress just returned to work Wednesday after a monthlong recess that saw the situation in Iraq deteriorate into a difficult-to-fight guerrilla war. Devastating bombings of the U.N. compound in Baghdad and of a Shiite mosque and almost daily attacks on American troops had prompted many lawmakers to demand action from Bush.

``This administration did a miserable job of planning in a post-Saddam Iraq, but the fact is we are where we are,'' said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., an influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ``We need to move forward. We cannot lose here. We have too much at stake.''

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who serves on the intelligence committee, said she hopes an agreement with the U.N. Security Council could be reached quickly that would lead to more countries contributing troops.

``They need to get it quickly and fill the vacuum that exists because we don't have sufficient forces there,'' Snowe said. ``Without question it should have happened earlier.''

The proposal that Powell outlined appears to seek middle ground between demands from other countries and political reality at home.

France, India and other potential allies have said they would not contribute troops while the United States and Britain retained primary control over Iraq. But neither the administration nor most members of Congress would permit putting U.S. troops under U.N. control.

Rather than relinquish military power, the proposal authorized by Bush would keep U.S. troops under American command but cede more civil authority to the United Nations and the new Iraqi governing council.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said exactly how authority would be divided has yet to be determined.

``That is to be negotiated,'' Lugar said. ``This is an entry point.''

Senators were cautious to point out that even if a U.N. resolution is approved, a tremendous amount of work - and danger - will face any troops, countries and organizations seeking to stabilize Iraq.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the intelligence committee, warned that contributions of more troops alone would not necessarily address the biggest problems.

``It isn't so much more troops as it is the kind of troops that you have to deal with anti-guerrilla warfare,'' Roberts said. ``If in fact they cannot do that mission, I think you are spinning your wheels.''

But Hagel said that for appearances alone the United States has no choice but to internationalize the military and reconstruction efforts. There will be suspicions and resistance as long as the United States is perceived as an occupying power, he said.

To that end, Hagel called establishing a timeline for home rule ``the most important dynamic.''

Iraqis ``have got to be in the position of making decisions. They cannot be seen as appendages to the (United States) or the U.N. They have to be seen as representing the Iraqi people,'' he said.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the administration may have developed a compromise just in time.

``You have to acknowledge the situation is not good in Iraq. You have got to find a way to get additional help financially and with troops from other countries, `` he said. ``Maybe they have found some middle ground here where we will control the military part of it while the United Nations will have an increased role in the humanitarian and infrastructure and governance part of it. Maybe that is an acceptable compromise.''

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also praised Bush but took a swipe at the administration for the delay. Still, Daschle warned that the moves Wednesday were just a step and that far more details are needed.

"I think it's very important that (Bush) provide us with more answers than we have today with regard to his intentions and with regard to the overall commitment by this country on Iraq. If we're spending a billion dollars a week on Iraq today, how many more billions of dollars and for how many more weeks will this continue?" Daschle said.