US Sen. Reid favors bill restricting attack on Iran
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said he likely would support legislation barring a U.S. attack on Iran unless Congress explicitly gave President George W. Bush the green light to do so.
The Nevada Democrat was responding to reporters' questions about an amendment to an upcoming war-funding bill, which could come to the Senate floor later this month. The amendment is being drafted by Sen. James Webb, the Virginia Democrat who won his seat in November largely on a vow to work to end the war in Iraq.
"I would be very, very confident, I have not read this (amendment), but I'm confident, in real generality ... that I can support him," Reid told reporters.
Webb's amendment would prohibit Bush from spending any money on a "unilateral military action in Iran without the express consent of the Congress," the Virginia senator told reporters on Wednesday. He said there would be some exceptions, but did not detail them.
Webb said he used as a "starting point" legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in January by Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina making it clear that the Iraq war resolution passed by Congress in 2002 does not authorize the use of force in Iran.
U.S.-Iran relations are tense, in part because of Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but also following U.S. allegations that Iran has been encouraging the sectarian violence in Iraq that has raised the number of American casualties there.
For the past few months, congressional Democrats have been warning the Bush administration against creating a pretext for a military strike against Iran, which many fear could spark a regional conflict.
On Tuesday, at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the war in Iraq, Chairman Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, asked military leaders whether the United States was preparing to strike Iran.
"Mr. Chairman it is not true," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "Categorically sir," he added.
Reid, in his remarks to reporters on Thursday, acknowledged the Pentagon's assurances. But he added, "There are many out there much smarter than I am who believe the administration is ramping up to have the same thing happen in Iran that happened in Iraq."
However, Reid applauded the administration's announcement this week that the United States would participate in an Iraq-led regional conference that Iran and Syria will be invited to attend.
Previously, the administration had ruled out direct talks with Iran.
Later this month, the Senate could take up debate on a $100 billion bill to pay for continued combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides Webb's possible amendment, the Iraq war funding bill likely will be the target of other attempts to put conditions on the conflict, which Democrats want to bring to an end.
But even before the war spending bill comes up, the Senate could stage a debate the week of March 12 on Iraq war policy, Reid said.
He added he was inclined to let Republicans have a vote on a proposal they favored, which would bar any cutoff of funds for the war. Republican leaders have so far blocked consideration of Senate measures disapproving of Bush's Iraq policy until they can have a vote on the funding issue.
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