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Interview: Senators Jack Reed and Thad Cochran Discuss President Bush's Speech at the U.N.

Morning Edition: September 13, 2002

Senate Reaction to Bush's U.N. Speech on Iraq



BOB EDWARDS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Congressional leaders praised President Bush's speech at the United Nations yesterday in which he urged a tougher international stand against Iraq. Many members were glad that the president laid out the case against Iraq's President Saddam Hussein to the group of world leaders, but some Democrats say the Bush administration ought to clarify what regime would replace Hussein and how military action against Iraq would affect the war on terrorism. Joining me now are two US senators, Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran. Good morning, Senators.

Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): Good morning.

Senator THAD COCHRAN (Republican, Mississippi): Good morning.

EDWARDS: Is Iraq an immediate threat to the world and the United States, Senator Cochran?

Sen. COCHRAN: Well, I think that's what the United Nations is going to decide. Secretary Powell is busy talking with other representatives on the United Nations Security Council to see if there is a consensus for action to enforce the resolutions of the United Nations. I think he will work out a consensus for action by the UN.

EDWARDS: An immediate threat, Senator Reed?

Sen. REED: Well, it's more of an inevitable threat than an immediate threat. I think the president made the case yesterday that we have to consider the ultimate potential for Iraq and deal with it in a timely manner, but certainly I think the most immediate threat that faces us today is the war on terror.

EDWARDS: The president challenged the UN yesterday to force Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and allow UN inspections. His aides said the president meant the UN must bring results in weeks. Senator Cochran, how long should the US wait?

Sen. COCHRAN: Not long. I don't think we have the luxury of a lot of time. We are worried that a lot of things are happening in Iraq right now that we do not fully understand and we don't have access to information. We don't have people on the ground under the authority of the UN to conduct inspections. We have to make a demand that that be immediately available to the United Nations and we have to be prepared to take the lead in ensuring that the UN Security Council resolutions are enforced.

EDWARDS: Senator Reed.

Sen. REED: Well, I think the president was very clear of reminding the world of the most compelling and less controversial element is that the Iraqi regime has defied numerous resolutions of the United Nations and this is a test of whether the United Nations can enforce its own resolutions. And I think the beginning of that enforcement will be the introduction of inspectors back in Iraq and that should proceed very quickly forward. And I suspect that the administration is going to support that effort, but what I found interesting is that the calls for an immediate regime change were muted and the very fact the president was there at the United Nations symbolized a newer embrace of multilateral approaches and particularly his voluntary rejoining of UNESCO is a strong signal, too. So I think as president, there's signals that there's a slightly more nuanced way to use multilateral efforts to change the regime in Iraq.

EDWARDS: If there's no progress, Senator Cochran, should the US take action against Iraq even without UN and broad international support?

Sen. COCHRAN: I think it depends on our understanding of the threat to the security interests of the United States. The president has the power, I think under the Constitution, to use military force to protect our security. And if we see any action by Iraq that indicates they are about to use force against the United States or our soldiers in the region, then we should be prepared to take action.

EDWARDS: Should the US go alone, Senator Reed?

Sen. REED: Well, the obvious point is if we go alone, it'll be much more complicated, much more difficult, and I think also regardless of the disposition of the UN action, we have to consider very carefully the consequences in the region--militarily, diplomatically, economically. This would be a different type of operation, I believe, than the Gulf War in 1991, but again, I think what Senator Cochran has pointed out is probably the core of the issue. It's the quality of the threat. If it's an immediate threat to our safety and security, then that requires an immediate response.

EDWARDS: Well, you both served in the military. Senator Cochran, what more does the president need to say to convince the American people that military action against Iraq is necessary?

Sen. COCHRAN: I think one of the first steps should be to ask the Congress to express its support for what the president has said and outlined and proposed to the United Nations by the adoption of a joint resolution. I think that would be appropriate. He clearly was right when he pointed out the actions of the regime in Iraq has undertaken a decade of defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and that cannot be tolerated any longer.

EDWARDS: Does the president have more explaining to do, Senator Reed?

Sen. REED: Well, I think he does and I think it's not only to the Congress but to the American people. They certainly are aware of the threat that Iraq poses, but I don't think they have all the information and details they need to be supportive of military operations certainly. And there's a range of questions: What's the likely consequences in terms of the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Iraqis, attacks by the Iraqis against neighboring states? And a bottom line question is: Are there other means short of an American-led or perhaps even exclusively American military assault? This goes, I think, to whether or not there is some utility to inspectors, and we won't know that really until there's some further progress I think about a multilateral approach to the United Nations.

EDWARDS: Is Congress likely to back the president if he moves forward against Iraq, Senator Cochran?

Sen. COCHRAN: I think Congress is going to act. I don't think the Congress is going to shy from its responsibility. We can't stand by and do nothing. That's what the president said yesterday and I think Congress agrees with that. And we should face it.

EDWARDS: Senator Reed.

Sen. REED: Well, I think his chances would be immensely improved by rallying international support as well as coming to the Congress. And that's why I think yesterday's speech at the United Nations, well-crafted, well-presented, was a very important step in securing support not only internationally but domestically and within Congress. I still believe that there's a lot that has to be put on the table in terms of evidence, in terms of alternatives. This is a very complicated operation. We have to see who will be with us, but I think the president made a case that cannot be refuted, that Iraq is defying international law--and the question of timing is unclear--but eventually, the regime is a dangerous one to not only its neighbors but to the United States.

EDWARDS: If the vote were today, Senator Reed, would you vote to go?

Sen. REED: I think the vote today would be premature frankly because I think again our chances of success, our chances of avoiding a more difficult situation would be enhanced dramatically by multilateral support and that's just beginning to emerge and there's still real questions of who will join us.

EDWARDS: Is the US prepared for life in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Senator Cochran?

Sen. COCHRAN: Well, we don't know. That's speculation and we can't know all of the possible actions that will follow the enforcement of the resolutions, but I think it is clear that the time for waiting and hoping is over.

EDWARDS: Senator Reed.

Sen. REED: Well, that's one of the great questions that hasn't been addressed fully yet. The reality is if we go in to Iraq, particularly if we go in in a unilateral capacity, we will essentially be responsible for the reconstruction and restoration of a country that's a huge enterprise. Also, particularly if we go in without major international support, we'd expose ourselves I think to a lot of criticism in the region and around the world. So these are exactly the types of issues that have to be addressed and there has to be at least an appreciation of the course and the commitment that we're going to make to Iraq if, in fact, we do lead a military operation there.

EDWARDS: Thank you both very much. Senators Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi, and Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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