Congress Debates Iraq, Bush Readies for EU Trip

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Juan Williams discusses issues the Senate is expected to discuss this week. And President Bush prepares to meet with European Union officials in Vienna. NPR's Don Gonyea previews the president's trip.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, that operation comes during the same week that the United States Senate is planning to debate U.S. policy in Iraq. The House had its debate last week. NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams has been tracking all the talk and joins us with some analysis. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is the debate likely to affect Congressional funding for the war?

WILLIAMS: Not really. The $517 billion appropriations bill's almost certain to be passed with strong bi-partisan support, but the real crossfire with major political implications will be over the terms and conditions attached to the money, Steve. For example, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein is said to introduce an amendment calling for a deadline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. She won't use the term deadline; she'll use language that focuses on the idea of goals for U.S. policy in Iraq, specifically that U.S. military presence in Iraq should be ending within a year and a half of passage of this defense spending authorization.

INSKEEP: Although people are going to try to attach conditions, does what you say reflect a reality here - people may be unable with the war, politicians may be unhappy, but, in the end, they're going to approve money to continue it.

WILLIAMS: That's right. You know, you look at the House debate last week. It focused on a resolution designed by the Republican leadership for maximum political advantage, but it didn't allow for amendments from Democrats, or anybody else for that matter.

So what happened is it tied support for the troops, you know, to an idea of no arbitrary deadline. And there's lots of rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats - the Republicans, basically, accusing the Democrats of wanting to cut and run from a fight with terrorists, while the Democrats accuse the Republicans of allowing the nation to be pulled into an extended sectarian war among Iraqi factions.

You had people like Congressman John Murtha saying he supports the troops but not the policy. However, the Democrats don't feel politically able to support withdrawal at this time. By the way, I'd mentioned here that last week we had polls released that indicated Americans - 53 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal poll - still consider the war a mistake, and 54 percent are willing to support a candidate who promises to pull U.S. troops out in a year.

INSKEEP: Juan, stay with us. Let's bring in NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea who's been standing by. Don, good morning to you.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Hi, good morning.

INSKEEP: President Bush is meeting in Vienna this week with the European allies, who've also been unhappy with the war, but are they any closer to the Bush administration than they have been in the past?

GONYEA: Well, they do seem to be getting closer. The fight's over the war between the U.S. and EU. All the rancor that we saw in recent years has subsided significantly and shouldn't really play a role in this summit, which will actually take place on Wednesday.

The big thing now is the president wants to ensure European support for this new Iraqi government. That is just critical and he'll take about that at length this week.

Now, there's one other big agenda item for the president. He will talk about the need, at this summit, for nation's around the world, including some in Europe - again, it's just an EU summit - to make good on pledges they have made in the past to send financial aide to Iraq to help pay for reconstruction.

Money has been pledged from all around the world, overall some $13.5 billion, but only about a quarter to a third, according to the White House, of that cash has come in and made its way into Iraq. So, I guess, it's pledge fulfillment time for the president this week, and he will really press for that in Vienna at this summit.

INSKEEP: And in just a few seconds, what does the U.S. and its allies want to do next on Iran?

GONYEA: They want to put together a unified front. We are told not to expect any big announcement on Iran at this summit. The deadline is still weeks away, but they do definitely want to talk about this and assess where things are at this critical point.

INSKEEP: And let's go back to Juan Williams. What are members of the Senate pressing the president to do when it comes to Iran, Juan?

WILLIAMS: Steve, Senator Harry Reid, who's the minority leader in the Senate -the Democrat's leader - says he's going to attach an amendment calling for the White House to report to Congress on U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear capabilities, as well as any administration planning for how to deal with the regime's nuclear ambitions. He even wants the administration to agree to offer justification for any statements made by the president or vice president.

INSKEEP: Justification?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, you know what? He wants - this is not too subtle a point here, but they want Congressional oversight in any walk-up to any confrontation with Iran and not a repeat of the U.S. decision to go into Iraq, only to find no weapons of mass destruction.

INSKEEP: Okay, Don, Juan, thanks very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams and NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea providing us some analysis on this Monday morning.

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