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Interview with Rep. David Bonior

Aired October 2, 2002 - 12:01   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A working breakfast at the White House earlier today does bear fruit in the form of a congressional resolution on Iraq. So far, the Bush administration and the House of Representatives are on board. The Senate wants to think about it a little bit more in the meantime. We want to call on John King over at the White House, Richard Roth is at U.N. headquarters, Jane Arraf in Baghdad.
In the words of Dick Gephardt, the resolution lawmakers will vote on calls for dealing with Saddam Hussein -- quote -- diplomatically, if we can, militarily if we must.

CNN's John King is joining us live from the White house. He has chapter and verse -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president got what he wanted in that resolution, an agreement with the House leadership, an authorization for Mr. Bush to use force against Iraq with or without the blessing of the United Nations. Democrats got what they wanted in the negotiations, an acknowledgement of the important role of the United Nations, the request that the United Nations does work with the United States and adopting a new resolution, some specific reporting requirements on the president to keep Congress informed of any military campaign and any planning for peacekeeping troops, any reconstruction inside Iraq.

Also specific language targeting any U.S. military action to the current threat posed by Iraq, and to forcing Iraq to comply with its commitments to the United Nations. It is a compromise. The president will celebrate it in about an hour here in the Rose Garden. The goal, celebrate the agreement with the White House, but also to put pressure on the Senate. The Senate majority leader Tom Daschle yet to sign on to this.

In the audience with Mr. Bush will be key lawmakers from both parties, including some Democratic senators, who favor the White House approach, all a bit of hardball, if you will, on the president's part, to try to quickly get his way in the Senate as well. Dick Gephardt, you've shown him at the top of the program, a key architect of this bipartisan agreement. He calls it a good deal. But some dissent within the House Democratic caucus, including dissent from Congressman Jim McDermott, just back from a trip to Baghdad.


REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Going to war is going to be bad for the American people, so I want to try and resolve it with him by -- if we were playing poker, it would be calling his bluff. That is, he says you can have unfettered inspections, the foreign minister told us that, Tariq Aziz told us that, the president of the parliament told us that -- everybody told us that. All right. Let the inspectors come in.


KING: But it is Mr. Bush's position, of course, that inspectors should not go back and a tough resolution from Congress and a tough resolution from the United Nations. Senator Daschle is now the focal point of White House negotiations. He emerged from the breakfast here at the White House this morning. No deal yet on the Senate side. If you listen to Senator Daschle, he seems to think there will be one coming soon.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I think there is a great deal of similarity in approach with regard to the importance we put on the United Nations and the multilateral effort, on the similarity that we have with regard to our concern of weapons of mass destruction, our similarity with regard to the importance of consultation with the Congress. Those are the kinds of things that you'll find in virtually all of the resolutions involved.


KING: Some competing proposals from Democrats in the Senate, some competing ideas from some Republicans in the Senate as well. It is the White House view that the only proposal that right now can get 51 votes in the Senate is the same deal the president struck with the House leadership this morning, but a bit of lobbying here from the president, Wolf, in the next hour. A little more haggling with the Senate before we see if there's an agreement on both sides of Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: John, a little more haggling, not only with Senate Democrats like Tom Daschle, but also at least a few Republicans, including two members of the foreign relations committee, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Are they going to be on board with the president?

KING: That is still an open question. But much of the language in this compromise with the House leadership does take into account the concerns of Senator Hagel and Senator Lugar, when it comes to working through the United Nations, recognizing that it would be preferable for the United Nations to take the lead here in concert with the United States. So a number of key concessions to them in this language. In fact, we were told by sources, even Senator Daschle said there is nothing in this resolution that he could not support. There's still some issues within the Democratic Congress, and in fact, Senator Daschle, we are told, feels a bit more emboldened to seek further concessions, because of the concerns raised not only by Democrats, but those key Republicans that you just noted.

Not unusual for the negotiating to go until the end with Congress. In the end, most expect the deal will look exactly or pretty close to what the president has struck with the House leadership.

BLITZER: John King, over at the White House, thanks for joining us. Stand by, we'll be getting back to you as the course of our coverage continues.

Indeed, President Bush's remarks on Iraq from the Rose Garden. We'll bring you those remarks live, expected to begin at the top of the hour, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. Pacific, right here on CNN. We'll hear what the president has to say directly.

Another draft resolution is floating around, though this one is at the United Nations.

As our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth is here to tell us, it's also far from a done deal. How much of a distance is there before there is a new U.N. Security Council resolution?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday, it could be weeks, and there's also another resolution, this one by the French. They're both unofficial, nothing has been formerly submitted to the Security Council yet, and floating around is an interesting term that you use, Wolf, some of these resolutions are being hidden and are being copied off somebody else's pages. That's how tightly wrapped they are. Both the U.S. and France not willing to get out in front and formally say, this is what we want, because they know very well there could be major revisions with both texts.

The U.S. resolution, which CNN does have a copy of, does give Iraq seven days to fully accept the terms of the resolution, 30 days to turn over full accounting of all weapons of mass destruction, and some other interesting points, like the ability to take Iraqi scientists and technicians and their families outside of Iraq to interview them, away from potential Iraqi intimidation. Also, no-fly, no-drive zones, exclusionary zones that the Iraqis would not be over to overfly when inspectors want to get to a suspected weapons site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard, Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, expected back at the U.N. Security Council tomorrow from his talks, two days of talks, in Vienna with Iraqi officials. What's next on his agenda? He's getting ready to dispatch those inspectors with or without a new U.N. Security Council resolution.

ROTH: Well, I wouldn't have them pack their bags yet, because The U.S. is intent on not having inspections begin until there's a new resolution, the one that Washington likes. It's almost like a bad Broadway play that keeps running. The Russian ambassador just said we're waiting for Blix here at the Security Council. He'll brief the ambassadors tomorrow. And he knows he gets his instructions from the Security Council. If they tell him, we want you to go to the presidential sites, Don't leave yet, he's got to do that. He may still be allowed to set up an exploratory headquarters, get some of the arrangements ready. The State Department didn't seem to oppose that yesterday.

Two weeks from now is when Blix and his team are supposed to start some inspections potentially, so maybe there's another race to get a resolution done before then, but U.S. officials have said, we're in no rush on that.

BLITZER: All right, Richard Roth, thanks for that report. We'll be checking in with you often, obviously.

For a week now, Iraqi leaders have said U.N. weapons inspectors are more than welcome to search anywhere except some sensitive sites, perhaps presidential palaces. Why not those palaces? Let's get the view from inside Iraq. Right now, our bureau chief there, Jane Arraf is joining us live.

But what's the deal now, Jane, with those palaces, the presidential palaces, in Iraq?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of things here, Wolf. I just want to say you can probably hear behind me the call to prayer, as people head home for the evening. We're right next to a mosque.

And what the Iraqi government is telling those people is that the inspectors are welcome but, as you said, no palaces without prior notice.

Now the reason the palaces are important is that they're a symbol here, a symbol sovereignty and a symbol President Saddam Hussein, and they're not too fond of the idea of inspectors going just barging in.

There's also the feeling that these are very much United Nations weapons inspections, and that's what Iraq wants to stick to. It does not want U.S. weapons inspections.

Finally, I think we have to point out, that with comments coming from the White House, such as the easiest thing would be just maybe to put a bullet to his head, there is a little bit of suspicion here as to what the motives would be of sending in trained experts to gather intelligence from the palaces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane, is there a sense, though, that those U.N. inspectors will arrive around October 15th, as previously suggested, or that they could slip?

ARRAF: Certainly, Iraq is ready to let them arrive. The Iraqis woke up this morning to the official news, the government-controlled press, telling them that Iraq and the U.N. had come to an agreement. But it really will be a matter of whether there is a new U.N. resolution, a resolution that, presumably, would tighten up the rules for inspecting those palaces.

Now, Iraq has made clear, and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has reiterated in public at a press conference in Ankra that there is no way Iraq is going to agree to a new U.N. resolution. And that's where it stands. Inspectors are welcome. Iraq has made a lot of concessions, it feels, in letting them into other sites. But the palaces, there still have to be rules for those -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane Arraf, joining us live from Baghdad. Thanks very much.

About a week ago, three United States congressmen, all Democrats, traveled to Iraq, a trip they undertook on their own, and which led to a lot of criticism from Republicans and others back at home. Here with me now, Congressman David Bonior of Michigan, one of the members of that delegation.

Welcome back. I assume you're happy to be back in the United States. A long journey to Baghdad.

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), MICHIGAN: Always happy to be in the United States.

BLITZER: What do you make of the House Democratic leader, the minority leader, Dick Gephardt today, announcing that they've reached an agreement with the White House on the language for a congressional resolution that would give the president the authority he's seeking to use force, if necessary, against Saddam Hussein?

BONIOR: Well, I have looked at the language this morning, actually just before I came over here. There was one really significant improvement, and that is it limits the scope to Iraq, rather than the region, which I think is very important. The other stuff that I have looked at I don't think is terribly significant.

BLITZER: So are you ready to vote in favor?

BONIOR: I'm not supporting a resolution. I think we have to go back to the basics here. And ask ourselves, what will another war do in the Middle East? I think the implications are for our own troops, for our own embassy personnel around the world, for distracting from Al Qaeda and the mission that we were originally intended to make a priority. I think all of that has not been looked at in the context of the broader picture. And I don't think war is the answer here. I think we need to play the diplomatic piece out much further. We're only beginning. And I think we had some progress with Hans Blix in Vienna the last couple days, and I think we need to build on that as opposed to the threat of war and the use of force.

BLITZER: If there's a new Security Council resolution, as the U.S. is seeking, and they get it through the inspectors go back, but they're stymied once again, would you then change your mind?

BONIOR: No, I really think a war situation is going to involve us in other problems around the world not only in the Islamic world, in the air war.

BLITZER: You let Saddam Hussein sit back and let Saddam develop weapons of mass destruction if, in fact, that's what he's doing?

BONIOR: You need to contain him. There was weapons of mass destruction. Stalin had weapons of mass destruction for decades and we contained him. This idea of first strike preemption is a very serious one. We engage in this, and we give the green light to people all over the world to do the same. So this is much broader than just allowing Saddam Hussein to do what he wants to. We need to keep pressure on him, we need to do what we can to limit his use of these weapons.

BLITZER: You know, you've been criticized pretty severely from Republicans, including some others. I want you to hear what Senator John McCain said here yesterday on CNN only yesterday. He's a Republican. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R),ARIZONA: Congressman McDermott, Congressman Bonior want to go the floor of the House and question the president's credibility, go right ahead and do it -- don't go to Baghdad and do it. You are helping the Iraqi government sell to the Iraqi people their hatred of the United States of America, and it's wrong, and I honestly do not understand it.


BLITZER: What do you say to Senator McCain?

BONIOR: Well, Senator McCain isn't the only person who served in the military in this country. The three of us were Vietnam-era veterans. Mike Thompson, who wasn't with us, was also wounded when he was in Vietnam. We have a right as members of Congress to go. We have a right as veterans to get the full picture. In fact, we were very helpful in our message, which was very, very strong to the Iraqi government -- you need to allow unfettered, unrestricted, unconditional inspectors to come in, and I think we helped the process.

And so I would invite Senator McCain and his colleagues to go over to Iraq and see -- and talk to the officials there and see the devastation, the horrific devastation that the sanctions have caused over the last 12 years -- 50,000 Iraqi children die each year prematurely.

BLITZER: But isn't Saddam Hussein to blame for that?

BONIOR: There's a lot of people to blame, as well as the whole international community for that. We know what was happening to children, and we could developed alternatives to what has happened there. Depleted Uranium is causing enormous amounts of lymphoma and leukemia cancer as a result of the Gulf War. Nothing is being done in terms of medicine, and research and documenting this. All of this needs to be done. That is the way you start to bridge gaps with the people, not by ignoring them and isolating them and not getting them engaged in dialogue.

BLITZER: We're getting flooded with e-mail, questions. Let me read this one from Dave in Frankfort, Kentucky. "Saddam is doing the same old song and dance. Any sites that are restricted from inspections should be taken out immediately. BONIOR: Well, I think no sites ought to be exempted from inspection. I'm hopeful that through this process we'll have complete and unfettered inspections.

BLITZER: A provocative one from Michael in Michigan. I don't if...

BONIOR: Okamos, that's in Lansing.

BLITZER: OK. "Are Fleischer suggested yesterday that the assassination of Hussein is accepted and even encouraged. There is a law on the U.S. books that makes that illegal. There is a big problem with that discrepancy."

First of all, is it illegal right now, based on what you know, for the president to order the assassination of a, quote, "terrorist," assuming they consider Saddam Hussein to be a terrorist?

BONIOR: Well, I don't know the answer to that question. But it is illegal to have -- to go after heads of state, and the law would have to be changed, is my understanding, in that respect, and I am not in favor of changing the law. At least we have our own heads of state liable to the same type of assassinations.

BLITZER: So you were upset, obviously, when you heard what Ari Fleischer had to say yesterday.

BONIOR: And I think some of the people in the white house were upset as well, because he came back, and retracted what he said a little while later.

I must tell you, there are huge numbers of people, as you probably know, throughout the country who believe that would be the quickest way to deal with this. That's not going to assure you're going to deal with the problem, because I can tell you from being there and talking to the people, that there is great anger at the international community, including the United States, for these sanctions and for the loss of half a million children.

BLITZER: Congressman Bonior, welcome back. I'm assuming you had a safe trip. Thanks for joining us.

BONIOR: Nice to be with you.


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