Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell on Sunday expressed support for President Bush’s handling of the Persian Gulf crisis thus far but ruled out any “blank check” from Congress authorizing an attack if Iraq fails to pull out of Kuwait by Jan. 15.
“I don’t think such a resolution would pass,” the Maine Democrat said. “I certainly would not vote for it.”
He also said he does not believe that the United States should act immediately after the U.N. Security Council’s deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
“If we must use force ultimately, I will favor that,” the senator said. “I don’t think Jan. 15 is the time for that.”
Mitchell complained on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” that the Bush Administration continues to insist it can launch an attack without congressional approval, although Mitchell said he has told Bush “many, many times” that a congressional declaration of war is essential.
“The Administration has said what they would like to see is a U.N.-type resolution, a blank-check authorization to say that the President, at some indefinite future time, under unspecified circumstances, can make war,” Mitchell said. “That would be a negation of the role of Congress in our system of government.”
He said there is “no doubt that Congress will debate, discuss and vote on this issue,” but he declined to give a date. Mitchell said that first he would like to see whether the United States can be successful in scheduling talks with Iraq.
Bush has invited Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz to the White House and proposed that Secretary of State James A. Baker III confer with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. But the talks have been stalled by disagreement over when they should take place.
“I want to see if the Baker visit is still on and what the circumstances are in early January” before scheduling congressional debate, Mitchell said.
He said the United States should “continue the current policy laid out by the President, which is that Iraq must leave Kuwait, that we are prepared to use force as a last resort, if necessary.”
Mitchell, who returned last week from a visit to the Persian Gulf, said one of the issues Congress must discuss concerns the possible ramifications of war in the gulf. He said the United States must consider the possibility that Iraq would counter by attacking Israel and that action could shatter the Arab alliance against Iraq.
He raised the possibility that in such a scenario, Syria would abandon the U.S.-led coalition to side with Iraq.
Asked if his advocacy of continuing sanctions beyond the U.N. deadline undercuts Bush’s effort to maintain maximum pressure on Iraq, Mitchell denied that debate would give “comfort to Saddam Hussein,” saying:
“We ought not to abandon democracy because we are opposing someone who doesn’t practice democracy. The reality is that no one knows what’s going on in Saddam Hussein’s mind and in the final analysis . . . we believe the best policy is derived from vigorous, open, competitive debate.”
Meanwhile, on ABC-TV’s “This Week with David Brinkley,” former Secretary of State George P. Shultz said he believes war is probable and that Hussein will be put “back in his box.”
Shultz said that in addition to freeing Kuwait, the world must make sure that Hussein is stripped of his chemical weapons arsenal and potential nuclear capability.
On CBS-TVs’ “Face the Nation,” New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo agreed with Mitchell’s stance, saying: “If there is to be a war, he (Bush) must come to the Congress and get them to declare it.”
Cuomo also sounded support for the Bush’s policies to date, saying:, “I was for the President in the beginning because I thought he was doing all the appropriate things. I couldn’t think of anything else he should be doing.
“Even now, with the mounting criticism, because people are getting closer to the edge of war, it is difficult to see anything that the President has done that he ought not to have done.”